Yuppies playing at conservation ha.

In her book “Rights Talk”, Mary Anne Glendon discusses the libertarian ideal of freedom, where the individual was completely free. She then traces the libertarian idea back to Rousseau and others, who waxed lyrically on that imaginary primitive man who lived off the land and was free of laws and customs and religious injunctions.

She then asks: But what they ignored in their discussion was how the primitive free woman and children were doing at the time.

The primitive woman, who was probably pregnant, was sewing the clothes and doing the cooking and cleaning for the “primitive savage” of course.

I am aghast at the excesses and wastage of upper class Americans, (or the rich Filipino families here) but as one who has lived much of her adult life in rural areas of the US, Africa and now Asia, seeing rich yuppies “pretending” to live poor is even more absurd. Do these people have any idea of how “primitive” people actually live? Does the phrase “nasty, brutish and short” have any meaning to them?

That is what disturbs me about this self indulgent attempt to live a “no impact” lifestyle. BLOG LINK

Start with the “no toilet paper”. Well, there are ways around that, but you really don’t want to know them. But the real problem with toilets is not the paper, which is biodegradable, but the toilets. They “waste” water. The lowest “impact” would be the head on a sailing ship, or the toilets of Old Oraibi, where the hole looked down on…nothing. Or you could go back to the chamber pot…The dirty little secret about toilets is that without decent sewage and a lot of water to keep clean, cities will go back to the good old days of cholera, typhoid, and other enteric diseases (aka diarrhea, which in the US is inconvenient but in much of the world is a major cause of death, especially in children).

The second dirty little secret about modern technology is that they allow the sick, the pregnant, children, and the elderly live comfortably.

Take avoiding elevators. In the NYTimes article, the author brags about all the stairs he and his wife climb. But what if she is pregnant? or old? Elevators are a godsend to the rest of us. Ditto for not using a cab. His wife walked a couple miles in the snow? Ever hear of frostbite?

The “no buying food from over 250 miles away” is fine. But what about winter? In the “good old days” it meant scurvy. And unlike “eco friendly” Europe, that boasts their people take trains and Americans drive, most American freight is shipped by eco friendly trains while Europe wastes petrol on shipping their veggies by truck.

But what about cooking and refrigeration? Both of these modern appliances use energy. Back to the wood stove? Ah, but entire areas of Africa are denuded of trees for wood to cook with. The answer is propane or electric stoves, which produce a lot less pollution than wood stoves. Or raw foods…which is less easily digested and can cause malnutrition in children. Ah, but let’s get rid of the refrigerator. Back to the good old days when lack of refrigeration lead to food borne diseases and a lot of food wastage due to spoilage.

Organic food? Fine. We grow organic brown rice here in the Philippines. But without the fertilizer fueled green revolution there would be a lot of dead poor people. Our yields are one third lower than other farmers, even with organic fertilizer, and because of higher production cost, our rice sells double the price…an important thing to remember when the average wage is two dollars a day…

Well, let’s stop those polluting pesticides. Our province had 1000 cases of Dengue last year. Without mosquito spraying it would have been higher. And Dengue mainly kills children. And let’s ignore the hundreds of thousands of malaria death caused by the ban of cheap, non toxic DDT..

No household appliances. Back to the days of laundry by hand. But we bought a washer and spin drier to do our clothes, since wringing out the sheets was hard for our maids, and the spin drier saved water. Of course, you could go back to wearing clothes for a week before changing them, like in the good old days…when typhus and body lice were common…and perfume covered the wonderful smells of body odor.

Washing dishes, even by hand, uses water. Don’t wash them, you get sick. Try disposable plates…whoops, sorry, that’s paper. Well, we use banana leaves. Want to import them?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The dirty little secret is that to live a “low impact” lifestyle, you’re either going to end up sick, or make your wife quit her job and do a lot of extra work, or hire a maid.

And you’ll have to adjust your work schedule. For office work, when it’s too hot or too cold, just stop work completely. In the “good old days” people stayed together in the family bed to keep warm…Yet even then there was frostbite and chilblains, with children and the elderly dying of hypothermia.

The same goes for air conditioning. Take a three hour siesta after lunch, because it’s just too hot to work. Heat Stroke can kill people. Remember,”modern” France lost 20 000 elderly in a mild heat wave two years ago. Again, it comes to productivity. You simply cannot work efficiently in an office during the summer in most of the world. Productivity goes down. And your computers crash.

Ironically, I’m all in favor of a simple lifestyle. But there is no “no impact” lifestyle. Affluent yuppies pretending to live “low impact” lifestyles are faking it. You see, poor people who live “low impact” lifestyles waste a lot of time and energy and talent just trying to keep alive.

A wiser way to live would be simplicity. Like the Amish (kerosene refrigerators and lots of spices). Or like the lifestyles of many rural people in the USA. Or the life of a Trappist Monk.

The ideal is NOT Walden Pond, the simple life? Well, not really. You see, he was rich enough not to have to work to earn a living. And Thoreau cut trees down for his house and to keep warm, so his live was not exactly “low impact”… and the dirty little secret is that he got tired of his primitive diet and ate with friends at least once a week…


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket

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