Today I am including a caveat to my ‘All the benefits without the guilt’, as a way to show how easy it is to fall into a particular mindset. My previous post made it all sound so simple. Why do all that work when a simple device can make your life easier?

Unfortunately that is how we find ourselves in the current predicament of global warming, resource depletion, environmental degradation, and polluted land, air and sea.

Using electrical solutions to problems such as heating or cooking, rather than wood might save human effort at the point of use, but there is one factor that has to be taken into account – how and where the labour saving devices were made.

In the 21st century, there is a good chance that they are made from oil derived plastics; if they contain electronics of any kind, elements such as copper, rare earth minerals etc will have been mined at huge environmental cost. The people doing the mining may be working in poor conditions, like those who assemble the final product in a far distant factory. The goods will then be shipped around the world.

The cost of the product will reflect the cost of the materials, the time of those involved in the process of making the product, and some profit for the manufacturer, the person selling it.  What won’t be involved is the true environmental impacts of the mining, the oil extraction, processing, transport, dealing with the waste when the product reaches the end of its life. If these costs were factored in, then you can be pretty sure we couldn’t afford to buy the product.

I can mitigate some of this by buying or fixing up previously used goods, which will at least extend their life and keep them out of landfill, but this doesn’t solve the core problem, of the resource usage in the first place.  What we need is to innovate and come up with simple solutions to some of the problems that we face. Some, such as the rocket mass heater, have been incorporated here at the farm, and we hope to keep on trying out similar ideas. In the meantime, we will keep on treading the fine line between what is practical, and what is ethical.