The One-Straw Revolution isn’t, at face value, a book about what most would consider environmentalism. However, The One-Straw Revolution through example shows an almost ideal way of living with the land in an environmentally friendly way.
If you focus on yourself as an individual within a greater community (not only a community of people but of plants, fungi, other animals, etc.) you naturally tend towards an environmentally friendly way of living. For example, The One-Straw Revolution talks about ‘do nothing’ farming, and initially it seems like this way of farming is for the ease of the farmer. Do nothing agriculture may be easier than traditional forms of farming but it’s much more than that. Do nothing agriculture is admitting that natural systems are closer to harmony and balance within a greater ecological community than an agriculture system of a human unilaterally exerting ‘control’. This way of thinking and living is the epitome of the high tech ways of living we embrace now and more so are developing. Crops with a host of pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers and automated watering systems now have even their genes edited by human control.
I say all of this to define at the outset of this article what ‘living small’ means to me. Someone can live on 10,000 acres of land and be living smaller than someone living in a 400 square foot apartment with no lawn. I define living small as a matter of which resources we use but also how we use them and the extent to which others may also use.
For instance, living on 10,000 acres of undeveloped land allows use by many other organisms than living in a sterile apartment treated for any sort of ‘pests’. Likewise, ‘do nothing’ farming allows for more use by other organisms of the same land than does traditional or high tech agriculture. Doing anything always incurs cost. If you eat, it costs something to the environment; that cost is paid back through waste which may nourish other organisms and inevitably your own body which through decomposition again becomes parts of other organisms. Doing anything risks damaging the environment or other organisms, the key to less damage is less doing. This idea is counter intuitive to many westerners, even or perhaps especially those exposed to the hyperactive Teddy Roosevelt school of doing and taking the mistakes as they come. There have been many mistakes in mainstream conservation when doing nothing was better than doing something. Examples that spring immediately to mind are Mariana Crows and Kaibab Deer.
Kaibab deer of the Kaibab Plateau of Arizona are a unique population, wishing for them to be protected the U.S. government initiated an intense management and conservation plan. Predators of the deer were killed off and hunting of the deer themselves was outlawed. For a short time the deer population boomed. After the boom in deer numbers came a hard crash. Quickly deer numbers grew too large to be supported by the plant life available and the deer in turn starved in masses. Predators it turns out can in their own way help a prey species or at least keep them from the slow agonizing death of starvation.
The Hawaiian Crow is another example of hubris on the part of those who would protect a wild animal. Crows were endangered and to learn more and hopefully implement a conservation plan, monitoring ensued. Cameras were set up at crow nests to record the bird’s behavior on public land. There was a local rancher who refused to allow research on her land saying the bird is best left alone. In the end, the rancher was right. The cameras scared the crows, causing many to abandon their nests due to the noise of the now antiquated recording devices. The crows left alone on the ranch fared much better in the long run, being more successful in rearing young.
I believe the two examples along with others can be applied not only to science or environmentalism but to our daily lives. The more we do, the more unintended consequences we incur. Part of the problem is thinking deeply about what doing more or less, living bigger or smaller means. Doing more for yourself and requiring less from businesses, the government or other organizations means doing less. Living on a hundred acres that you cultivate is living smaller than living in a hundred square foot apartment where you buy all your food from a grocery store. Likewise, when you do purchase, purchasing truly local items can help, buying not from a local business but a local producer or grower for instance.
As a rule of thumb, the simpler your lifestyle, the less extravagant and the more you take personal responsibility for all you use, the better. It’s about being humble and admitting you are part of a greater community as much as it is about self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is really an illusion, you always depend on others: other plants, fungi, animals, people, bacteria, the sun, etc. Living simply means working with the seasons, with the environment and surrendering a little, not unilaterally imposing your will on everything around you. It’s about simple observing and just being a part of a whole instead of consuming the whole to merely feed a part.