[permaculture] A Permanent Culture:-Rural or Urban or......

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Thu Oct 13 13:51:06 EDT 2005

On 10/12/05 4:41 PM, "Laurence Gaffney" <lgaffney at bigpond.com> wrote:

>>> (Broken record here: rural life requires more inputs than urban; check the
>>> laws of physics.)
> Hello Toby
> Could you please elaborate on this statement.
> i.e. Which laws of physics, your assumptions/definitions etc.
> Do you think the statement holds true universally?

Figured I'd get a query on that, but my earlier post was far too long as it
was. The law of physics I'm talking about is Work = Force times Distance. It
takes more energy to move things farther. I suppose in Utopia we'd have
cities and rural villages each utterly self-reliant and never needing to
move resources outside of each place. But since this is the real world,
where utter self sufficiency does not, cannot, and really should not exist,
it takes more energy to deliver goods to a dispersed rural population, and
more resources to connect them to other places via roads, wire, pipe, etc,
than a more concentrated urban population. An apartment dweller in San
Francisco uses 1/5 the electricity of a SF suburbanite--California measures
these things. There are countless other examples.

Here's one: In Portland, I live 1/2 mile from "produce row," which is the
distribution point for food collected from growers covering thousands of
square miles. To reach me it travels a mile or so from produce row to the
food store. When I lived in rural southern Oregon, that food also came from
produce row, but it was shipped a further 180 miles to reach me (I grew some
of my food, but not all of it). It takes a lot more fuel to get stuff from
where it is made or distributed out to the country.

Now, you may complain that this is part of the folly of modern society, but
the "hub and spoke" distribution system is ancient and unlikely to be
replaced soon. Producers go where the markets are, and farmers rely on
distributors. We can all envision other systems and imagine,
unrealistically, that someday each person will grow all their own food, but
I'm talking about what exists now and will continue to exist for a while
yet. Rural people, like everyone else in the real world, will always need
things made elsewhere. These things are made mostly in cities, and even if
they aren't, they are shipped to urban hubs, and sent out from there.

Ruralites also have bigger yards to mow (and they do mow them), longer
driveways, longer runs of telephone wires, jobs that require car commutes,
etc, etc. You can argue that in theory these could be reduced, but again,
I'm talking about how most of western society lives now. Even a good permie
like me used vastly more gasoline when I lived in the country than I do now,
and I was trying to use little as I could (16 miles from the nearest decent
town and a 900 foot elevation gain made biking impractical).

And regarding Lawrence's excellent point:
> If you go to live in the country then learn to do some kind of farming
> and put permaculture to work for you, and make a living this way.
> City dwellers should be totally supportive of those who do this.

Totally on board with this. But many of my friends who move to the country
set up education centers, country retreats, yoga spas, etc. Then people
drive long distances to visit them. And the overwhelming majority of rural
people do not farm (fewer than 7% of all rural Americans get income from
their land). They like their acreage, they commute a long way to work--they
are just suburbanites with really big yards. So we are talking about two
different kinds of people here: those few wonderful people who farm and use
their land wisely and, like Scott Vlaun, can bike most places, versus how
most westerners actually live in the country.

> I always thought that the rural life always produced more outputs per
> unit of input than urban or suburban lifstyles.

Depends on what they are producing. To teach 30 people, I used to drive or
fly 60-3000 miles from my country home. Now, I can bus or bike to class, or
at most drive 3 miles. Far fewer inputs for me. And my food-growing inputs
are the same (actually less because we have much better soil now, and my
helpers bike here instead of driving).


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