Why land, on which to build a home and grow food, is our ultimate security

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Posted Jul 18 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
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There’s a general feeling – and a growing one I think – that we’re headed for disaster, and that no-one is in control or able to steer us away from the precipice. Here are four categories of reasons that people give for pessimism about the near future:

  1. ecology: scientists are telling us that we’re seriously damaging nature, and that we’re already in a mass extinction event
  2. war: more and more countries are acquiring nuclear weapons, weapons technology is becoming deadlier, there are flashpoints all around the world, empires and blocs are waxing and waning and there is a distinct possibility that terrorist groups could acquire a nuclear capability at some point
  3. technology: several other technologies are being developed that could escalate beyond our means to control them, especially genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology
  4. population: from the first humans to 1960, the human population grew to 3 billion; but we’re now headed towards 10 billion by the middle of this century – all requiring food, shelter, energy and aspiring to cars, TVs and flights, from a planet whose nature is already degrading with 7 billion of us

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We absolutely don’t have the models or tools to make accurate risk assessments, so I suggest that we ignore commentators who claim to have a handle on the likelihood of any of these scenarios and lean towards the precautionary principle. Civilisations have fallen before, but without affecting other areas of the world; this time it’s global, and we don’t have anywhere else to go.

This view may at first seem extreme – but is it? It may not feature prominently in the corporate media, but I rarely speak with anyone, of any background, age or profession who doesn’t perceive these risks – in fact the only question seems to be whether it will happen in our lifetime, or in the lifetimes of our children or grandchildren. Very few people assume that we’ll get through the next century unscathed.

The only way to feel secure in a world like this is to have somewhere that you can provide the necessities of life for yourself and your family, without having to rely on a system, on institutions or on other people – the main necessities being food, water and shelter from the elements. However, a patch of land also provides other things that you may consider necessities – such as health, well-being, beauty, meaningful work and a grave.

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Of course, nuclear holocaust, rogue technology or ecological collapse and/or resource depletion (or a combination of all four) may render the entire planet uninhabitable by humans, and so having stewardship over a small part of the earth will only delay the inevitable horror. But even if those things ‘merely’ cause the collapse of civilisation, rather than human extinction, the vast majority of us will not be in a position to feed ourselves, meaning that the rest of our lives will be short and not very pleasant.

Here are three very different people I’ve had this conversation with this year.

Our next-door neighbour is a builder. He came home from work one evening and we talked over the fence. His job was to inspect a new post-office that was being built, and he’d been informed by a gang / construction company that if he attempted to do his job properly – that is, to report the shoddiness of their work – they would break his legs. He was almost in tears as he told me he’d had enough, and all he had ever wanted was a few acres in the countryside on which he could grow food and build a house – which he was perfectly capable of doing.

Our local bar owner was saving money to buy land in Ireland to have a smallholding and build his own cottage. He had no interest in what the corporate sector tell us we should be interested in, and he wanted to escape from ‘the mainstream’ as soon as he could. He has since committed suicide, so it seems that his pessimism about the direction humanity is taking overcame his desire to escape.

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I met a banker at a barbecue. When he found out what I did for a living, he admitted to me that he hated working in the city because he found it cold, harsh and soulless. He told me that he’d studied architecture at university and that in his youth he had built a house. He said that he felt trapped, and wished that he’d taken a different route. His ideal life would be on a smallholding, having built his own home, so that he could live simply and mortgage-free.

This last point is very important – to have land means that it’s possible to live without a mortgage and without debt. As this would challenge the current power relations in society, it’s a lifestyle that is enormously difficult to achieve – even though it’s good for local economies, the environment and for people. We live in a corporate empire which doesn’t want us to escape.

Having some land on which to build your home and provide the essentials of life for yourself is a superb way to escape. You can do other jobs on the side to make a some extra income – a bit of writing, plumbing, nursing or teaching for example; and it’s not about escaping from society – you can go online, go down the pub, take holidays and visit friends in other parts of the country. You’re not escaping from society, just from corporations and debt.

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However, the planning system and the cost of land stand in the way of anyone who wants to live like this. People used to leave our straw-bale building courses whoop-whooping that they were going to get a bit of land in the countryside and build a house, but they hadn’t looked into it. At the moment there are two types of land as far as planners are concerned – development land that is prohibitively expensive and that developers will almost definitely have their claws into; and open countryside where you can’t build even a tiny cottage (unless you’re a large farmer who wants to build a huge, concrete battery shed).

Now you can take up this challenge – maybe buy some land in the open countryside, build your home and fight a retrospective battle with the planners. But this will involve a steep learning curve and lots of hard work, stress and insecurity; plus this route is just as available to someone building an unsustainable mansion with a helicopter pad for commuting to work in the city. This isn’t what we’d like to see happen in the countryside, obviously. But we would like to see the system change to allow people to build natural homes on sustainable smallholdings to rejuvenate the countryside, bring back traditional skills, healthy food and a sense of community.

So how do we do it? Well, luckily, some people are already working on it, and you can help them. The Ecological Land Co-operative have challenged the planning system in England and created a precedent. They bought a farm in the open countryside in Devon, split it into three plots, and successfully applied for planning permission for the plotholders to build their homes, dependent on the plotholders adhering to strict sustainability criteria outlined in their business plan. Plotholders can buy the leasehold, rent-to-buy or rent, but the freehold is held by the co-op so that the environmental criteria can remain in place on the land in perpetuity.

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This is where you come in. After their initial success, they are looking to purchase land for a further 20 settlements. Their current share offer is open until July 26, and they need another £15,000 to reach their minimum target of £230,000. There’s no catch, and this isn’t charity – they’re offering a 3% return, which is better than from a bank savings account. So if you’d like to contribute to a better system, then move your money from where it contributes to bankers’ bonuses to where it contributes to allowing more people to escape the corporate system to live on a smallholding, produce food and build a home. I moved £2000 a couple of weeks ago and it took five minutes. Please consider doing this, and putting this in front of people who might have a bit of money stashed away in a savings account, but would prefer to have it in a more useful place.

Click here to move your money to the Ecological Land Co-operative.