Foundations of Our Life
Only a poor farmer buys products he can produce himself. This is an old Roman proverb I found in a farmer's manual from the 50's.
After the mid-1980s I became interested in self-sufficient way of living. Self-sufficiency provided the solution when I was finishing my schooling and unable to find myself a place in the dominant society. A strong desire to take part in building the society clashed with gnawing issues of conscience: could I participate in developing a society, if I felt it was built on nothing? The country at that time was Germany, where our family migrated from Finland in 1972. For me, self- sufficiency became synonymous with liberty of conscience. Producing everything I need by myself meant an opportunity to choose from the bottom of my heart what to put my labour into. In 1990 I settled down again in Finland. After a few initial years of endeavour, I got a confirmation that the myth of the superiority of technical development is severely distorted. Farming by hand, collecting firewood without machines, and handicraft using "primitive techniques" showed me the actual relationship between a labour input and its product. The use of resources changes dramatically, when you must acquire them by hand. I started theorizing my early experiences, and the result was a lecture in 1991, the summary of which was published in several papers in the Spring of 2007. For several years, I lectured around Finland in the wintertime, but then I wanted to become thoroughly self-sufficient and test my theory in practise. I was surprised by how little money one can get by with: my dependency on money would drop to 30-50 Euros a year. There weren't many corrections I would have to make to the conclusions in my lecture. Since then I've spent my years farming, and I've also found time for hobbies and societal participation. At the moment my studies have shifted in a more communal direction. At the outset, the project was an individual's project, and a rather stringent one. Currently, I'm interested in how far it can be applied communally and with a family.
In this essay, which is divided in five parts I deal with a society that is environmentally sustainable. I begin by looking at human and machine labour in terms of energy. From this I continue to investigate the peculiar link between energy and money. In the third part I assess the relationship between human communities and energy. There I reach conclusions which would make it very important that we stop thinking solely in terms of nations when we think of human communities. A state is only one way how humans ca group. In the following two parts we're looking for possibilities of change. Actually I'm dealing mostly with obstacles on a way towards sustainable lifestyle, than with promising attempts making this world a better one.We owe ourselves an explanation why nothing seems to offer us more liberty than the prevailing society. This series on the Foundations of Our Life closes with ideas on what an individual can do without being insignificant in his actions.
Lasse Nordlund, 2008
Foundations of Our Life
I.) Human labour, machines and energy
In the past, working meant performing manual labour in gathering, hunting and farming economies. It meant using labour energy (or work in a physical sense) to get food, and food energy was collected from the nature. The lives of the people who came before us were founded on this balanced exchange of energy, and this balance made them self-sufficient. Our use of resources was based on the work we could do by ourselves, and was not augmented by outside energy inputs. A relationship formed between a human and his use of resources and it helped him to live sustainably. To preserve the nature, we should still strive to work this way. It is the only way of working and living we know by extensive historical evidence to be sustainable.
Even today, everyone is dependent on energy that is collected in primary production. In Western countries, only a minority of their respective populations – 4.5% in Finland i 2003 – works in agriculture, fishing and game husbandry, and even this minority does not acquire the energy it needs for food, heating and clothing by manual labour and directly from the nature. Food is harvested indirectly, using machines and additional energy. What is the relationship between this used energy and the energy that is collected using it? Why half of imported (i.e. primary) energy is used in agriculture and forestry – areas that were supposed to feed us with energy?
The balanced relationship between our work and collected energy collapsed critically with industrialization. Currently, we are constantly using energy we have not collected from the nature by manual labour, where the sun keeps storing it in plants. As we are not acquiring our livelihood directly from the nature, we must feed into the system the missing amount of energy for example in the form of fossil fuels. This way energy and matter that are foreign to the system's ecological balance are funnelled into the biosphere.
Unlike it's generally presumed, we did not manage to make energy collection in primary production more efficient by the use of technology, or by a sophisticated division of labour. A tractor pulling a seven-bladed plough may look efficient, but it collects food energy a lot less efficiently than a person working by hand in a garden – when we take into account the energy and working time inputs more broadly than just for the individual farmer. To figure this out, we must assess how much energy it takes to collect primary energy indirectly, in a mechanized way. The results must be compared to the energy input that would have been necessary if had we collected the same amount of energy manually, using only simple tools.
During their lifespans, machines use energy as fuels and through maintenance, but also during the manufacturing process and eventually when they are disposed of. When a machine is manufactured, the more technologically advanced the machine is, the more energy will go into making it. This is because the energy needed to make a particular machine includes the energy it took to build all the machinery used to make it, and the energy used to build the machines that built that machinery as well.
In practice, we can trace the energy inputs in a manufacturing pyramid only to a limited extent, so the sum of energy inputs we get will always be less than what has really been used in the making of a machine. Even though, say a computer's dimensions are small, to manufacture one requires a large, energy consuming infrastructure from a network of roads to information networks.
This helps to explain in part why, despite "energy-saver machines" becoming more common, our energy consumption continues to grow explosively. With new machines, machine development promises us more saved energy, but at the same time it creates new ways to consume energy. The attempt to amend the energy deficit has become anunrelenting ascent into new energy consumption heights. Energy efficiency calculations in technical bulletins give a false idea about a machine's energy consumption by concentrating solely on the energy consumed when the machine is operating; for example, by concentrating on how long a distance can a vehicle travel with an amount of fuel. It's problematic to estimate a machine's utility entirely separately from the environment it is impacting. A heavy tractor compresses farmland, which then takes more energy to plough, which raises the energy needed to make a unit of food. The concept of energy efficiency leaves out the indirect energy needs that arise from having a machine in the first place, including ore mining, transportation, marketing, maintenance and changes in working technique. A car needs terrain cleared into a road to ride.
Our body, on the other hand, is in a technical sense a very efficient machine, especially thanks to its versatility. We don't need roads to move and we can climb a tree without special equipment. A human can perform physical work equal to that used by an incandescent lamp. We can manage about 100 watts. At that level we can work throughout the day and stay in good health. We can bring ourselves briefly to work at as high as 500 watts. After a heavy day of work, we'll have performed about 1 kWh. To keep performing at this level, we have to eat food containing about 4 kWh of energy.
In addition to manufacturing costs, mechanized production ties up labour force, which is thus removed from primary production. These workers have to be sustained. Those who believe in technology tend to suppose that people outside of primary production still indirectly make primary production energically more efficient. What today is called "efficiency" relates mostly to the amount of time used but not to energy- input used: each tractor farmer supports 50 people, but it's done with an energy input that corresponds to 1500 people working the fields manually (1987). In comparison, a single Stone-Age person could sustain 1-2 people in addition to himself. The time savings that come from mechanization are largely simply a reallocation of working time, where the people who used to take part in farming are now producing equipment to speed up the work of the farmer. That the time savings are an illusion is reinforced by the following statistic. In 1940, half of Finland's population worked in primary production. By the year 1988, their number had gone down to eight per cent, who, despite the change, still give employment to half of the population in further processing and machine production!
It's impossible to calculate precisely the inputs that go into the production of a machine, because when we trace the production line, we arrive at a point where a machine is making parts for a variety of devices, making the distinction between one energy input and another impossible. The manufacturers of trendy energy-saving light bulbs leave out of their calculations the energy that is needed, for example, by the manufacturing technique, and to deal with the created hazardous waste. This way the results look good when compared to ordinary light bulbs. Real "efficiency" is only achievable by technically relatively simple equipment, such as an old-fashioned spinning-wheel or a (wooden) shovel. The less iron they contain, the better.
A spinning-wheel doesn't need any metal parts.
Foundations of Our Life
In the previous chapter I compared the work efficiency of machines and manual labour. The comparison opens up a very different way of looking at the money economy from the one we're used to. How can the industrial revolution have taken place, when it boasts an energy deficit? An animal behaving this way would've died a long time ago.
II.) On the relationship between energy and money
When profitability is calculated, energy balances of machines are not taken into account at all. Profitability tells us nothing about the energy efficiency of a given decision, and only tells us how quickly the invested money will be paid back. The slant in our society's energy balance got out of hand as we turned from an exchange economy into a money economy. Money makes way for phenomena that are impossible or insignificant in an exchange economy.
Before the shift into a money economy, there was a rather direct relationship between labour energy input, and the energy collected as crops. When food is acquired by manual labour, the yield can't be improved at will, because no outside energy is harnessed in the process. In an exchange economy, work time and energy are exchanged. Trading is sensible only when it's for a person almost impossible to produce an item by himself. Concluding a deal always takes time and equipment, in addition to some compensation for the person acting as an intermediary. These inputs and a too long transportation distance easily make trading senseless from the energy efficiency point of view.
In a natural economy moneyless commodity exchange happens mainly between two parties. When money is introduced, more parties can get involved in the exchange, as expenses can be shared commonly between them using money as a value-assigning device. Demanded and supplied commodities become "visible" to all, and comparisons between commodities becomes possible. In other words, commodities enter the "market". This creates competition between commodities, which forces producers whose commodities are sold in the market to keep their prices as low as possible. The easiest way to keep the price of one's products low in our economic system is to replace expensive human labour with cheap oil energy. 1 litre of petrol (costs ~1 Euro) contains the amount of energy of two weeks' manual labour (costs ~ 1000 Euros)! Our economic system forces us to use the greatest amount of energy possible, at the cost of human labour.
When extraneous energy is used for making products, the product's exchange value is no longer linked to our physical work effort. In addition to our physical labour, an item absorbs the extraneous energy used during its production, which does not increase the price of the product (as it should), but lowers it! Based on the energy balance model I've presented, products are currently priced too low, and manual labour is priced too high.
The small-scale trade of a natural economy was sensible in terms of energy. Then, however, trade developed into an end in itself, into a livelihood that needs a strong system of power by its side. The present system of global trade and production constantly creates an energy deficit, which can only be filled by bringing in energy from places like the Middle East. Our economic system is well equipped to accomplish this task, and so it has managed to keep our energy deficient society standing so far. In trade, transfer of money equals transfer of energy.
Directors of finance may talk about overproduction in agriculture, but this only describes the amount of commodities in the market compared to the demand. The more realistic situation in terms of nature is that we have the greatest shortage in primary production in history. We use hundreds of times more energy to produce a unit of food than the Stone-Age human. Within the scope of a pricing policy, part of the "overproduced" good may be disposed of to keep the prices stable, which makes the energy deficit of our wa of life even more worse..
In this light I can make the following generalization: what is economically viable cannot be ecologically gentle, and for that which preserves the nature, it is impossible to find economic viability. Subsidies try to evade this fact, but they are being collected from industries that feed large amounts of energy into the system. The green economy that has been sponsored this way is as much in doubt, as is nature conservation that gets funded only when the economy is booming. The direction of our market system cannot be changed, because it is founded on competition. Economic growth is a result of an extraneous energy input, it is not wealth created by our own labour. The system rewards those who most forcefully exploit energy and natural resources for production. People living in a natural economy cannot achieve the kind of overproduction our society rests on. For people living in a natural economy, wealth is created only by being able to do manual about in the best possible way, in a setting provided by the environment. If in their work these people face other pressures than those set by their environment, their labour shifts from optimal energy efficiency into securing their livelihoods less efficiently.
A theory is left for further study: Is our economic system dependent precisely on a growing energy input? Will it fall apart if the extraneous energy input stays fixed?
The pressure to intensify production by feeding more energy into the system has a particularly disastrous effect on the energy balance of primary production, whise productivity has its natural limits. Agriculture, which used to collect renewable energy, is one of today's biggest users of non-renewable energy. Sources of energy advertised as alternative, such as solar cells, biodiesel made from rapeseed oil, wind power, and hydroelectric power, are all well if you wish to make money from alternative energy, but they won't save us from our energy deficit. These alternatives turn our attention away from our real problems. The indirect and hidden energy needs of advanced technologies affect alternative technologies, too. Even when calculated conservatively, the energy needed to manufacture a solar cell is barely recovered during its lifespan. Our main problem is by no means a lack of energy, but our inability to live in a society which can cope with its resources. Instead our problem is an abundance of energy, since energy will translate into work, and on this scale will push our environment beyond a breaking point.
There is no environmentally friendly "fair trade" other than moneyless exchange over short distances. The use of biodiesel invites us to exercise our minds a little: is it sensible to first grow rape by tractor, and then process it to make biodiesel, so we could grow potatoes by tractor? As someone trying to preserve the energy balance, I propose picking up a hoe instead. The balance will be preserved, even though we will spend a longer time in the field farming, than we would by using a tractor.
In an exchange economy commodities travel less
Foundations of Our Life
In the previous chapters I compared the work efficiency of machines and human labour. The distorted relationship between energy inputs and the energy we collect by them is intimately linked to our financial system. Our economic system and our power structure have allowed us to defy the growing energy deficit so far. The ecological sustainability of the way humanity conducts itself can also be approached differently. Genetics, psychology and ethnic studies may shed more light on the destructive manner our hegemony culture works.
III.) Forms of cooperation and the efficiency of a community
In the animal kingdom, each species has its own way of organizing into groups or living solitary lives. By following its way, an animal or an animal community uses energy as economically as it can. It's likely that humans, too, have population controlling elements in their genome. These elements make a community grow when it's too small, and break apart when it's grown too big. Aggression and ganging up are manifestations of this adjusting force. Without compelling outside forces, our nature would direct us to settle in smallish village and tribal communities.
Association makes our use of energy more efficient. Even in communities as small as the nuclear family, there are many tasks that only need to be done once (firewood, spinning-wheel), which creates spare time for others. This is a benefit when compared to living alone. However, possible social conflict may erode this benefit. Fundamental to a community's energy balance is whether the community can adjust its work routine so that the benefits of association stay greater than the costs.
The increase in efficiency is greatest at the very outset, when the first few people decide to live communally. After that the benefits of further association drop quickly, and it won't mean much in terms of work force whether the community has one hundred or one hundred and one members. The bigger the community grows, the more resources it needs to keep itself functioning. The benefits of association grow thinner and eventually turn into a hindrance. No later than at that moment, the group should split up into smaller groups, or it will lose its life's foundation. In a small community, communal work can be sorted out over meals, but in a large community there needs to be a special herald, whose labour will be diverted away from primary production, and who therefore must be sustained by others. For the community's energy balance to stay positive, the person who leaves primary production must make the primary production of others so much more efficient, that it covers his upkeep. In a society as large as a state, there's even a need for a mass media with its communications network.
The infrastructure that is needed to support a forced community such as a state, by itself turns the energy balance of our society deficient. Unlike animal communities, a great society may not fall for some time even though it is wasting energy. It may be able to fill its energy deficit by bringing in energy resources from outside its borders. This makes our society necessarily colonialist. To give one example, the production of biodiesel is becoming a problem in Malaysia and Indonesia. Rain forests are cleared to make way for large oil palm monocultures for raw material production. Processing and refining this "alternative" energy is smoothly left in the hands of multinational corporations, which export the energy from the producing countries to the mother countries.
Large and centralized structures in society, in politics, and in production, speed up the emergence of more and more similar structures (globalization). Due to their structure, they are energy deficient, they are aggressive, and they focus the environmental burdens they cause in a problematic way. The emergence of centralized structures, such as a gradual transition from a tribal culture into a state system, proceeds at its own pace, whereas dismantling these centralized systems by human choice is nearly impossible.
Foundations of Our Life
In the previous chapters I compared the work efficiency of human and machine labour, and addressed the relationship between energy and money. The best size for a community in terms of its use of resources is about the size of a small village. In a unit bigger than this, the use of resources turns unavoidably wasteful.
IV.) The value and burden of our cultural legacy
Humans are shifting nature's evolutionary balance, which tends to shift and change slowly if left to itself, in a direction yet more unfit for ourselves.
By using a lot of antibiotics we cultivate even more dangerous strains of bacteria. The ability of bacteria to genetically adapt is better than ours. Reproduction rate is key in the spreading of viable mutations. It takes us a thousand years to produce 50 generations of offspring, whereas bacteria can do the same in half a day, and with an exponential number of offspring. This way we create an environment where we survive only by a more and more advanced technology, which in turn needs constantly more resources, and sows destruction elsewhere. Before long humans will start losing this race – when the extraneous energy flow into our system ends, the latest.
As these processes march on, our ability to move back into an organic way of living may grow worse, even if we found the will to do it, and there were still islands of nature intact enough for it.
During humanity's long history, we've learned to be instinctively cautious of animals and the dark, and we've survived as a species thus far. When it comes to the ways of using nature that were developed in the last couple of centuries, we lack similar instinctive experience. The organized harnessing of energy resources and raw material deposits increases our impact on our environment manifold compared to the past. We live in a society of "opportunities", with no feel as to whether our way of life is hazardous to ourselves or not.
The only suitable thing a state system could do to protect the environment would be its own gradual decentralization and the dismantling of its services. We're left with the option to start praying devoutly for the citizenry to begin to take responsibility of their own lives again. This is an exaggeration of our basic problem in the face of an inescapable pressure to change: meaningful acts toward "sustainable development" would clash with our values no later than when the entitlements we're used to are cancelled (e.g. the rights to education and health services).
Our cultural burden is an anthropocentric moral code, which does not help us deal with our value questions when they have to do with nature ("Even one domestic animal killed by a wolf is one too many", Savonmaa, 2.2.2005).
One of the biggest obstacles in the way of change is probably western medicine, which promises palliation to people's fears and suffering. Who will approve of a mother, who won't give his child antibiotics, because she doesn't wish to contribute to resistant strains of bacteria killing more people in the future?
In a society that strives to direct and control all that's technically possible, even morality is like that. Our morality acknowledges only relations between people. The rest of the non-living and living nature is by and large out of the reach of our morality, simply set to serve our short-term needs and indulgence. A doctor must do all he can to save a human life, and he has little opportunity to consider the long-term implications of this policy.
Indigenous people would not give up their entire wealth to sustain one individual, as it would endanger their whole existence. It appears to us that we can afford to do this because it is not us, but future generations, who will pay the costs.
In the future, state systems, which have organized the exploitation of the environment, will be compelled to play the conservationist to a greater extent. However, this role can only come second to these systems, after the primary task of making sure that energy is supplied for their own upkeep.
The most logical development for the world would be to move towards sterner and sterner dictatorial regimes, that are ostensibly more capable of forcing even fierce change when persuasion has failed.
Foundations of Our Life
In the previous chapters I compared the work efficiency of machines and human labour, and discussed the link between energy and money. It seems that states are incapable of acting as guardians of limited resources.
V.) On social contract
By social contract we mean a situation, in which the leadership of a society is given a mandate to govern by people, who previously lived without a society. A person benefits the society by giving away a part of his right to self-determination, while he gains the society's protection in exchange.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed the idea of social contract in 1762, during the age of Enlightenment. The legitimacy of a states' power is based on this idea of social contract. A central motivation of the people in establishing a society is to gain its protection. What happens to a state's legitimacy, if the state, as a system, is incapable of protecting the people from themselves (not just in practice, but in principle, too)?
Legally, the social contract is not a contract, because one can't choose not to sign it. By casting one's vote in an election, a citizen mandates others to act as his representative, and indirectly reinforces the state system's tenuous legitimacy. Voting creates something like a binding contract between a citizen and the state. Through forced membership the state as a society creates only one collective way forward, which means either common demise or salvation.
When I was born in 1965 in a Finnish hospital, I suppose I accepted that contract without much reflection.
VI.) An uncontrolled society: can there be change without the state?
In a decentralized society there is no central controlling hierarchy; there are small, independent blocks instead. In such a society, human activity cannot change the environment as dramatically as it can in our system. This is due to a difference in the ability to employ centralized energy and labour resources: a decentralized society is a self-regulating society.
This is very different from the state system, which must fulfil its ever-growing need for energy and resources by expanding its power step by step outside its borders. Peaceful states expand diplomatically, others do it militarily. However, the need to control ever larger territories is common to all states. Peacefulness turns into coercion if the desired ends are not met diplomatically. A state may put on a peaceful act for image reasons, and still ally itself with a more aggressive state in the hope of securing its position in the aggressive state's wake. These attempts to secure one's position without tarnishing one's image have grown more intense.
To render the society harmless would mean especially the dismantling and the decentralization of dependencies. To the individual it would mean a rethinking of liberties and necessities. Developing the society has relied heavily on ideas of development that aim at large, homogenous, and strictly hierarchical structures with an anthill-like division of labour. The society's decentralization is made more difficult by the resulting power vacuum, which may be temporary.
The Achilles heel of a highly organized society is its dependence on stable conditions. Particularly its central areas, which have to do with energy supply and the functions of the economy, are as important to it as is the citizenry's trust in the functioning of "their society." Stability is achieved within and outside the borders by means including violence ("peace by force"). While agriculture based on a single crop may bring great yields, the crop may be completely wiped out by a highly specialized pest. Our society appears strong, but it is standing on a few decaying columns. The growing need to minimize risks has moved our society further under the control of authorities. The fervency of the war on terror is a result of the state system's inability to control risks it is itself creating.
We can react to a destabilizing world by pursuing our interests and our resources at the expense of others, hoping we will be among those who survive. To do this is to create instability elsewhise in the world. We may also consider we might not be among the winners. It then makes sense to think which path causes the least suffering to people and nature as a whole. We will end up decentralizing the society, either in a controlled and gutsy way, or in a sanguineous crash when the growing energy feed into our system ends.
It is imperative that we develop and support alternative ways of life that function close to primary production. By being self-sufficient and by avoiding contact with the money economy, these alternatives may operate even when the conventional order starts to break down. Self-sufficient economies and communities are not useless even if there is no crash. In these communities people have an opportunity to live without damaging their environment. Retreating from the consumer society is at heart a very gentle act that is easy to defend morally, and is also socially more or less tolerated. This places it among the easiest of the difficult paths we can take as human beings, who carry with us the ties and bonds of our values and our culture.
When we develop self-sufficiency, our thinking becomes less dependent on the prevailing modes of thought. Practising self-sufficiency means broad knowledge and skills that don't fall in the hands, and become the property of universities and corporations, but remain with the people.It's a beautiful myth that universities practise science freely and for the sake of humanity. We've come a long way from that myth, if it ever has been a reality at all. A university acquires information that has commercial potential, and helps to monopolize that information in cooperation with pressure groups. Non-commercial entities easily become dependent on others, that may let them down at will and end valuable work in an instant. Self-sufficiency brings with it the freedom to disseminate know-how on organic living as one wishes, unafraid of competitors, allowing our intellectual legacy to be freely communicated and put to use, unimpeded by intellectual property rights and patent law. This way our thoughts may be freed, and be allowed to focus on what's essential in the face of the looming challenges.
Foundations of Our Life
This concludes my series dealing with the foundations our current society is standing on. Considering both global and local events, I've concluded that the overall most effective force for change has to come from the grass roots level. It's not all-powerful, but neither is any other way or actor.
VII.) Experiences of resource use on a self-sufficient farm
From 1992 through 2004 I lived a self-sustaining life in Valtimo, in the northern part of North-Karelia in Finland. The way people are working in self-suffiency is similar all around the world.
A single human being, buying no food whatsoever, needs surprisingly little arable land to feed himself throughout the year. Approximately 5 ares (500 square metres) is sufficient if one picks mushrooms and berries and can be thrifty. I consume about 200 kilos of mushrooms a year, most of which I dry. I pick about the same amount of berries, and I preserve them using a special method that employs no hermetic sealing and no additives – not even sugar. Inverting the jars regularly keeps the berries in excellent condition for years.
In running a self-sufficient economy I aim to do things from beginning to end by hand as much as possible. To make cloth I wish to build a spinning-wheel to make yarn. If possible, I try to make the tools needed to make the spinning-wheel as well.
All food farming begins by composting the outhouse and house waste well. Land is tilled with a pitchfork. Firewood I collect with a human-pulled cart and a hand saw. To make clothes I begin by shearing sheep and cultivating flax. I go on to spin thread which I then weave into cloth. Linen thread I've mainly used to make fishing implements. Baskets I make from willow.
The working time needed to reach this level of self-sufficiency is about half a day, provided that working time is spread evenly across the whole year. Eating meat is not necessary. With time I've returned to my vegetarian diet. Living near a lake, fishing is a more economical way to get food than keeping animals.
Grazing animals utilises them for energy collection. They convert plant nutrients into meat we then eat. Animal husbandry, excluding indigenous reindeer herding, is not necessarily advantageous in terms of energy collection especially here in the North. The long season when animals must be fed indoors means that preparing the animal feed takes a lot of work. Given the amount of work that is needed to keep animals, one can collect more energy by farming
than by eating meat. On the other hand, wool and leather are superior materials for making clothes,
and replacing them with linen causes a lot of extra work.
Keeping animals imposes a very regular working routine making it more difficult to optimise other job complexes, which in turn reduces the efficiency of animal husbandry when compared to a livestock-free natural economy. Whether a natural economy prospers depends largely on weather conditions, and on one's ability to schedule tasks for the most suitable occasions.
In this series I haven't dealt with the usefulness of animals in doing work. In Finland, it is often taken for granted that horses are needed in a natural economy. However, the upkeep of a horse is no minor issue, and a horse can easily eat what its work is worth. In a natural economy one should
minimize risks, and animal husbandry always means surprises one must be prepared for. In order to plough, a horse needs already cleared field and machines and tools a gardener doesn't need. I haven't found any reason to get a horse, but instead have found many reasons not to get one.
I believe horses became common on Finnish farms because the farmer was not free. Taxation in particular forced the people to produce goods that do not spoil, such as tar and cereals. The heavy logging needed for tar burning required horses, and once acquired, the horse could just as well be used for farming too. A peasant's life was hard because the peasant's economy could not be organized simply according to natural circumstances. The peasant keeps the society standing, so authorities have tried to control the peasant throughout history.
The conflict between the unknown paths travelled by our contemporary society, and the well-tried ways of a natural economy, is obvious. When will it come time to admit that only a natural economy, that has been practised throughout human history, offers us a reliable model of a sustainable coexistence of humans and nature? An inflexibility of the mind and the spirit, our ability to prove to ourselves anything we wish to believe, is the strongest obstacle on the way to understanding. Our unlimited desire to make experiments favours the invention of even wilder plans to solve our accumulating energy deficit. At times these plans seem like sheer escape into fantasy. To slow down climate change, some researchers have considered separating carbon dioxide from air in large industrial plants, and then pumping it underground (Scientific American, 7/2005). A creeping uncertainty of our course will always push some people to labour even more frantically in the same direction as before. The fact that humanity has survived and even created advanced cultures without combustion engines is of no interest to these people.
The writer is farmer and a social thinker, who is occasionally training people in self-sufficiency matters.
Translated from Finnish in 2008
This essay may be freely distributed and is available also in Finnish, German and Italian.