“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you” – Wendell Berry
What is low-impact living?
We can’t solve the nature problem and the democracy problem if we want to continue living as we do now. It’s got to be different – and we’re arguing that it could be more fun, more interesting and healthier too.
Lifestyle change is not enough – however, it’s still vital. We believe that we need to build a new economy, but that’s not going to happen if the majority of people want to become as wealthy as possible and to consume as much as possible. Our task is both ‘micro’ and ‘macro’. Micro is low-impact living, macro is low-impact economy.
At the micro level, our task is to explain that material wealth doesn’t bring happiness and doesn’t deserve respect. All the world’s religions tell us not to strive for or give respect to wealth. Because so few ordinary people are able to achieve wealth, but so many aspire to it, it encourages a range of socially-undesirable things, like exploitation, crime and gambling – and when that still fails, drug and alcohol addiction and/or mental health problems.
Then at the macro level, our task is to build a new economy that doesn’t concentrate wealth and doesn’t have to constantly grow – everyone has what they need to be happy, but not so much that their consumption damages nature.
First let’s contrast low-impact living with how most people live in the modern world – let’s call it…
Many of you reading this will own property through, and owe interest to, a global bank – or you will be paying rent to someone who does; most of your food, clothes and energy will be provided by corporations, and you might have credit card debt; you’ll have quite a bit of electrical equipment, you’ll drive and you’ll fly occasionally, to go on holiday; you’ll be exposed to a lot of advertising, and your lives will be more or less completely controlled by the corporate sector. Does this sound familiar?
Here’s how it could be instead:
Imagine instead being able to walk to a local market, filled with locally-produced, organic vegetables, eggs, meat, honey, fruit, cheese, beer, fish, cakes, breads, jams, pickles, nuts and loads more.
Imagine being able to walk or cycle to a local job – towns and villages full of family businesses, self-employed people, independent shops and restaurants; and people making things – clothes, furniture, pottery, kitchenware, jewellery, building materials; and teachers, hairdressers, mechanics, bus drivers, plumbers, builders, electricians – all for small, independent companies, selling their products and services locally.
Imagine a strong, diverse, uncontaminated, environment that provides for us, keeps us healthy and nourishes us with its beauty.
Imagine being able to get your energy and heating from small-scale, local renewables, with no need for large, toxic coal and nuclear power plants, or pylons snaking all over the countryside.
Imagine living mortgage-free in a beautiful, natural home that you built yourself, or that someone you know and trust built for you.
Low-impact living is about local, organic food, self-employment, family firms, small independent shops, co-ops, credit unions, home cooking, open source, craft skills, self-built homes, renewable energy, smallholdings, allotments, sharing, enjoying nature, enjoying life.
It’s also about authenticity – real friends, real food, useful work. It’s an antidote to the power of corporations and banks, supermarkets, pesticides, McFood, monotonous, identikit shopping centres, housing estates and industrial estates, credit card debt and stress. The global economy is out of control, but it’s only a blip – we will either choose to live in harmony with nature, or nature will stop providing for us, which would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to our species.
What are the benefits of low-impact living?
- We can’t guarantee you’ll be happier – that’s ultimately down to you – but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t been crushed into corporate conformity
- You’ll be doing your bit to get humanity onto a better path
- You’ll be consuming fewer resources and creating less waste
- You’ll inspire and inform other people you come into contact with
- You’ll probably meet some pretty great people, and make new friends
- You’ll probably be healthier – including mentally
- You’ll be helping to build stronger, friendlier and safer communities
The problem is of course, that in a world where multinational corporations dominate the media, energy, food, transport and housing sectors, the finance industry, communications and ultimately, the state, no matter how beneficial it is, this agenda isn’t going to be promoted widely, and only a small percentage of people will transition to a low-impact life. We need wider, systemic change – but there is still a lot that you can do as an individual, to change your own life, and also to contribute to wider change.
What can I do?
You can start to change your own life. Here’s a suggestion for a ten-point rolling programme, from easy to more difficult.
- Become a free thinker – although if you’re reading this, you probably already are.
- Start to decorporatise your consumption. Make some relatively easy switches – to local shops and markets, to the Phone Co-op, to free & open source software etc.
- Then have a go at some of the easier low-impact topics – maybe get a compost bin; grow a bit of fruit and veg; or even some herbs or sprouts; insulate the house better; switch to LED lighting and natural paints; bake bread; maybe cycle rather than drive?
- Disengage from the corporate sector to a deeper level – get your food from community-supported agriculture; switch your mortgage to a building society; move to a Linux operating system etc.
- Money: you can read up on, and think about joining a mutual credit group, and ultimately a global credit commons.
- Employment: if you feel trapped in corporate employment, you could get out straight away by going WWOOFing. Alternatively (or additionally), you could start to explore more difficult low-impact topics – just choose what you enjoy. Maybe your new skills could help you become self-employed or become part of a co-op, with a job that involves providing a useful service to your local economy, rather than being part of a corporation that extracts wealth from your community.
- Accommodation: you could think about joining, or even starting a housing group where you can share resources, land, equipment and time with like-minded people, and to help move to a system where houses are homes rather than investments. Cohousing is probably the best umbrella term, that includes housing co-ops, community land trusts and intentional communities.
- Land: probably the furthest you can go is to get yourself a smallholding and build your own home. You can be part of a movement to get the land back into the hands of ordinary people, and you can provide food and other materials for your family and for your local community. Hard work, but help is available from organisations like the Ecological Land Co-op, the Community-supported Agriculture Network and in Scotland, the Crofting Commission and soon, the Scottish Farm Land Trust.
Whilst you’re here, why not take a look at the other 25+ day-to-day living topics available? And don’t forget to visit our main topics page to explore over 200 aspects of low-impact living and our homepage to learn more about why we do what we do.
The specialist(s) below will respond to queries on this topic. Please comment in the box at the bottom of the page.
Dave Darby is the founder of Lowimpact.org. ‘Specialist’ is definitely the wrong word, as this is a huge topic, with many component parts. If you post queries on specific topics, we’ll try to get specialists to answer them for you. This page is for general comments and queries, and discussing how we encourage low-impact living generally.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Brandon August 5th, 2017
One aspect of low impact living that you do not consider is data usage. Every bit has a price, and loading your page costs 1.9 mb. Now, this is not a lot by web 2.0 standards, but I do find it funny that this facet goes completely unnoticed.
2Sophie Paterson August 6th, 2017
An interesting point. There are some interesting articles which explore these issues (and the impact of the hardware used to browse, too) on the Low Tech Magazine website, in particular http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/10/can-the-internet-run-on-renewable-energy.html and http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html.
3Dave Darby August 6th, 2017
I was going to add a paragraph about data, but I realised that that would increase the cost of opening the page, so I didn’t. Seriously though, you’re absolutely right – especially as computers were supposed to make paper virtually obsolete, which would have balanced things out a bit – but they’ve done no such thing. But the only reason that we omit any aspect of human life is that there are, unfortunately, zillions of other things that humans do that are damaging to nature, and there’s only so much time. We’ll get there though (interesting articles, Sophie).