The first trailer (and Wagenplatz) that I lived in was pretty standard as far as German Wagenplätze go. That is to say there was no grid electricity, we shat in compost toilets, peed outside, and used headlamps and 12-volt appliances (that is, those with solar panels did—the guest trailer I lived in didn’t have ’em).
In my second trailer I found myself living in a luxury Wagenplatz deluxe. That is to say, with running water in the community’s bathroom trailer (though we still all carry water to our kitchens) and the grid electricity I had missed as a writer who is dependent on a laptop incapable of running on 12-volts. I still pee outside, but now I can listen to music, write using the laptop, and bask in the brightness of my chandelier’s 40-watt bulbs whenever the muse strikes me. Even in the dead of winter when there might not be enough sunlight to power even a couple hours of light.
Though my current home is set up so that I don’t actually need to turn on the chandelier to light it (I heart wall-hanging candle holders), I secretly long for the day that the coal and nuclear power plants shut down and we are left in the bright light of our sun and our bonfires and candles. As long as it continues to make sense in our culture to write on a laptop, I will probably be interested in having some source of electricity. But going without it for a few months can be a beautifully eye-opening experience, can help you realize just how little you really need.
Can you imagine living completely without electricity? Can you imagine running only lights and appliances that run on 12-volts? Can you imagine giving up your refrigerator and freezer? What would you miss most in a world without electricity?
What I have never missed—and still don’t have though the current electricity situation would allow it—is a refrigerator. We store our vegetables in a drawer (even in the presence of a fridge)—a dresser found in the trash I can only assume—and our grains in the bags they come in and in the glass containers I pick up from the flea market and the trash (I have a dried-foods-in-glass-containers fetish actually). Dairy I store on the floor near the door of my trailer in the winter (the coldest spot in the room), and in the summer I buy very small quantities that I know I will be able to eat before they go bad.
But refrigeration habits are culturally learned. Take the egg. In America people refrigerate eggs with a vengeance. I used to think that an egg left out on the counter was an egg I shouldn’t risk eating. But in Germany eggs aren’t even refrigerated at the grocery store, and though the only eggs I’ve ever eaten in Germany have come straight to my plate from the coop, the millions of other people who eat them seem to be doing just fine.
If I ate meat I might feel slightly differently on the refrigeration issue, but meat isn’t currently part of my diet. And should meat finds its way back into my belly—as I have always assumed it one day will—it will be in a manner that keeps a refrigerator out of my life (smoked, dried, bought often and eaten immediately) because it’s an appliance my conscience can no longer stomach.
Once in a while I have a little “miss you!” pang for some freezer space, but then I think of the coal power plant belching the black death into the sky, shrug, and go get a carrot out of the drawer. Besides, there are a handful of fridges and freezers in the trailers around me, and if push comes to shove, I could borrow some space in one of them without adding another appliance to our electric bill.
If the shit really hits the fan and, say, we run out of oil (or it’s just too expensive for normal people to buy) and the world (and electric grid) as we know it crashes around us, then I’ll happily toss my laptop out the window and get on with my life.
I know that at first I’ll miss a few things: the candles (as I curse myself for never having learned to make my own when I still had access to the internet), the washing machine (though in a collapse situation I doubt I’ll find it necessary to own and maintain as much clothing as I do now), the table saw (which would quickly be replaced by arm muscles the likes of which my body has never seen), and my stereo (the CDs will become mobiles and I’ll finally build that pedal powered record player I have plans for). Certain things will be missed, but I don’t think I’d mourn them for long.
But maybe, just maybe, we’ll all get our shit together before it comes to a collapse, and start redesigning Our Way of Life so that it is no longer at such odds with the habitat that keeps us alive. Maybe we’ll start making smart decisions about power use—cutting out the things that make our life easier but not better so that we can keep whatever we decide is the most important—and maybe pigs will sprout wings and cart us off to hell by the scruffs of our necks. You never do know, do you?
Cutting back on our personal electricity use can make a difference in its small way, but remember: it is industry that uses the most water, the most power, pretty much the most everything. So while we’re kicking our refrigerators to the curbs, let’s save a kick or seven for the industries whose practices need the biggest makeover of all.
How do you keep your power usage (and bills) down? How do you think we could convince corporations to do the same?
Photo (cc) flickr user CHINNY!