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Is consumerism and suburbia sustainable?...Lessons from the Amish

By       Message Mary MacElveen     Permalink
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In my prior piece dealing with our crumbling infrastructure, I had referred you who read that piece of how the Amish people helped out in a time of crisis or rather an inconvenience.


The reason I had asked you to read that amazing article was not only a case of neighbor helping neighbor, but to learn something from it.  You are probably asking, what can we learn from such a simple society?  We can learn how to survive going forward.  Upon reading that article when researching my piece on infrastructure, this statement rang out to me where a non-Amish person who had been delivered hot coffee from his Amish neighbor stated that it was the "Best coffee I ever drank,"

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The reason it did was when the north east blackout hit in August of 2003, I had just gotten home from the big grocery store, unpacked my food when the lights when out.  I couldn’t use the stove because it was electric and had to keep the refrigerator closed to keep my food cold or frozen, so we had cold cuts.  Being the ever-loving coffee person that I am, I normally have a cup after dinner.  With the electricity off, I looked to my coffee maker and said, “What now?”

Well the trusty brain circuits worked and I put the kettle on the propane barbeque, boiled the water and voila, coffee!  It was absolutely the best cup and as I began to drink it, the lights came back on and life was normal.  We were strongly urged not to consume as much power until each grid was brought back online one-by-one.  So, I turned off the lights and sat and drank my brew with candles surrounding me.


I have to wonder after any blackout occurs such as in Kentucky, if folks learn anything from it.  Or do they go about life as usual, jumping in their SUVs to head to their local or not so local Wal-Marts to purchase vast amounts of goods they want, but not necessarily they need.


Think about it, our electricity comes mainly from fossil fuels and some experts have opined that we are at our peak supply-wise.  Yes, our president and others have called for our dependence on fossil fuels to end.  One because it is not a limitless commodity and second, it is the predominant reason for these endless wars.  Even by switching to alternative fuel sources, they cannot even sustain our present way of life.  By the way, that phrase “way of life” is one I have come to abhor.  Many folks around the world live simpler lives as well as the Amish right here at home.

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Right now with the majority of our citizens living in the suburbs, these sprawls cannot be sustainable going forward.  In order to travel to them, our main mode of transportation to them and within them is the automobile.

The biggest mistake in hindsight was the creation of them and the road ways built in order to get to them.  We became a society living in our automobiles.


In the beginning of this present economic crisis, the Big-Three came to Washington for help, but maybe there is a lesson for us all coming from this recession or where many fear we are in a depression.  Like Michael Moore, I believe that these plants should refit their plants into building buses and trains.


I do believe as we go forward the personal automobile is also not sustainable.  I truly hate to say that as so many workers have and will lose their jobs, but perhaps those jobs can be saved by building these buses and trains.  Also with the price tag, the sticker shock floors the consumer.  Then there is the auto-insurance one must have and that too is extra money that many just do not have.  In this recession the rate of uninsured drivers have gone up.


If suburbia is not sustainable in the future, will big box stores such as Wal-Mart become extinct?  Think about it, what is sold in that one particular store?  Goods from China.  Will a limited source of energy cut off our trade with China especially if China is beginning to consume as much as we are?  Please remember, their population far exceeds ours.  If so, those stock shelves may become barren in the future and we will have to rely on goods made here at home if the price of oil goes up and the availability goes down.  Somehow, we will need to rethink our buying habits in this new society.


Do we buy want we want or buy what we need?  That is the pertinent question to start asking right now.  Television ads brainwash the consumer into thinking they must have a certain product RIGHT NOW!  So, what do we do?  We run to our SUVs and go out to our local or not so local Wal-Mart.  Mission accomplished.  Often times, we the consumer put it on our credit cards which is one part of how we found ourselves in this current economic crisis.  Perhaps a topic for another column.


As I stated in my previous piece, I am a huge fan of buses and trains, because they have the ability of transporting the masses instead of people using up our limited commodity known as fossil fuels.  People mention ethanol, but if we keep up our present addiction to cars, there is not enough land to grow even that commodity to fuel our cars.  Also please remember that ethanol comes from corn.  People do need to eat in order to live instead of driving.

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People think it quaint that the Amish do not drive automobiles, but what they use their precious allotment of land for is growing food.  They are not like us where they hop in a car, and drive to the big-box food store to buy an abundance of food.  Think about any winter storm where people freak out and rush to the grocery store, not even thinking, they do have enough to survive that storm.  Go look in your refrigerator or cabinets now and see if you have enough to make it through one day which is normally how long people are snowed in. 


Since I do not drive because of medical reasons, in those times, I just make due or if I am truly out of something, I hoof it to my local deli which is within walking distance even out here in suburbia.  There is also something rustic and reminiscent of the frontier days when one has to brave the elements. Then you truly feel…Mission accomplished.  If you are not looking at the glass half full at that time, you are probably saying, “Oh crap!”


Which brings me to what kinds of communities will be the best ones for us to live in as we go forward.  They are called high-density communities where people live within business districts where smaller Mom-and-Pop stores are where people shop.  Hurray!  The night before I went canvassing for then candidate Senator Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, I stayed over a friends home.  He lives in City Island, NY and while not called a high-density community, it has all the trappings of one.  I was simply amazed that one can walk within this community and go shopping or to eat out.  Just imagine, you can actually get to know the people within your community.  Presently, strip-malls and Wal-Marts have divorced us from our interconnection with people.  As we shop, and live within these sprawls for the most part, we live solely within our free-standing homes and automobiles.

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I am a writer who currently writes pieces for my own blog I have been published by, and I was a guest on the Jay Diamond Radio Show on WRKO in Boston and have (more...)

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