Living on the Earth, April 7, 2000: The Final Crop
For several years now, we've been watching the final crop sprout on the
hillside across the valley from our farm. After more than a decade of
regulatory, ecological and economic disasters, bulldozers are now rapidly
converting several hundred acres of rolling hayfields and mature forest
into 70 house lots. Local zoning laws require at least one-and-one-half
acres per house in order to accommodate a well and a septic system. This
development requires that each dwelling be at least double the building
code's minimum size. About a dozen houses are already finished and
occupied. Expansive lawns have replaced fertile fields and productive
These big houses and starter mansions are the current epitome of the
American dream. They provide what many people strive for: lots of interior
space, a yard big enough for the kids, plenty of clean air and views of
distant forested hills, not yet conquered by new subdivisions. This
rampant development is a sign of confidence in our town's school system and
quality of life.
Unfortunately, the requirements that this suburban lifestyle places on the
rest of the world are completely unsustainable. These homes start at over
$300,000, come with a $4,000-to-$5,000-per-year real estate tax bill and
essentially require a six-figure income. This obviously excludes the vast
majority of the Earth's inhabitants.
With no fewer than four bedrooms, we might reasonably expect at least one
school-aged child per house. Since education costs over $7,000 per year,
per student, each house runs a $3,000 per year deficit with the town before
requiring any other services. With two students, it produces a $10,000
deficit annually. And homes don't run on education alone.
They also need energy to stay warm or cool (especially since the sun's
warmth and its path across the sky are not taken into account in the design
and orientation of these houses). The residents, of course, need food,
clothing, electricity and entertainment, all of which come from far away
with energy and environmental costs in both their creation and delivery.
Since these homes are many miles from the nearest park, small store,
shopping center or high-paying job and there is no public transportation,
the only option is to get in a car and drive. Three-car garages are
The authors of the book <I>Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact
on the Earth, </I>calculated that in 1991 the average American needed over
12 acres of ecologically-productive land to support his or her lifestyle.
For each person, that includes over two acres of forest to produce paper
and lumber, nearly three acres of farmland to grow food and fiber, and over
six acres of good land to absorb the carbon dioxide and other pollution
from our extravagant energy use. And, these figures were calculated before
the last decade's expansion in house, car and human waist sizes.
Unfortunately, there are just four acres of this ecologically-productive
land per person on Earth, including only half an acre of food-producing
The ecological deficit produced by just three residents amounts to 24 acres
per house. Yet the nearly complete disconnection from the sources of food,
energy and environmental services fostered by our culture encourages
ignorance of this lifestyle's effects on the rest of the planet.
We are all caught in this very dysfunctional system. The energy and land
required by this final crop and its residents are unsustainable.
It is time for us explore and develop another way of living on the Earth-a
way which consumes fewer resources, creates less pollution and satisfies
more of our needs locally. We've got quite a lot of work to do.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)2000, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays "Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future" is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $10 postpaid or from Amazon.com.
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