How to be a ‘Localist’ in the Delaware River Valley: Go DIY

This is the second in a six-part series on the connections between “going local” and living sustainably.

With Hurricane Sandy heading straight for our area, there’s reason to fear power outages, food shortages and floods that could displace us or our neighbors for an extended period of time. It’s all very unnerving. But maybe it also provides a valuable lesson: At a time when extreme weather is becoming much more common, it pays to become self-sufficient.

Self-sufficiency, for both individuals and entire communities, is at the heart of localism. One of the ways to become self-sufficient, from a localism perspective, is to engage in what localist economists call “import replacement.” This basically means making things yourself (or locally) that you (or your community) used to buy from someplace else.

Or, put another way, it’s about a DIY way of life.

Why go DIY?

Many people these days are attracted to the idea of self-reliance through a DIY lifestyle. There are probably at least four factors driving this trend.

  1. The economy. The financial crisis caused a lot of people to lose their jobs – even highly paid, high-skilled jobs. But the deeper problem with the economy is rapidly changing technology and globalization, which raises everyone’s vulnerabilty to “being made redundant.”
  2. The weather. The percentage of Americans who believe in global warming has started to tick up after trending downward for the past decade. Maybe that’s because so many people have now seen evidence of a far more menacing climate right outside their windows. From drought and extreme tornadoes in the Midwest to huge forest fires in California and Colorado to damaging hurricanes on the East Coast (not to mention the crazy Halloween blizzard exactly a year ago), the weather has been misbehaving in an increasingly disturbing way. That places enormous pressure on the electric grid and other parts of our nation’s infrastructure. Like the economy, dramatic and potentially dangerous weather leaves us feeling vulnerable.
  3. Peak oil. According to oil experts, the majority of the world’s oil fields have reached peak production. That means it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to get the remaining oil out of the ground. Terrorism and unrest in the Middle East add to uncertainty about our access to this non-renewable resource. And only the naïve believe “drill baby drill” is a reasonable solution. As many (but not enough) people understand, our need for clean renewable energy has never been more pressing.
  4. A troubled “food system.” There’s a whole lot wrong with farming in America. Current agricultural methods are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Mono-crop farming of commodities, such as corn, wheat and soy, coupled with heavy reliance on chemical “inputs” (fertilizers and pesticides), could lead to soil erosion, crop failure and widespread food shortages. Add in GMOs, the large carbon footprint of food transported across the country and around the globe, and the potential impact of severe weather on future harvests, and the need for a better, more localized, food system becomes pretty clear.

What DIY steps you can take

  1. Create your own economy. The uncertain economy can leave us feeling helpless…and no one enjoys that feeling. An alternative is to fall back on our uniquely American entrepreneurial spirit, create our own businesses and, in a sense, our own DIY economy. From mommy blogging (and blogging in general) to brick-and-mortar start-ups to community corporations committed to staying in one place and hiring locally, this type of 21st-century entrepreneurism may be what it will take to recharge the economy – and help transform it into something more sustainable and fulfilling.
  2. Become less dependent on the grid. The Delaware River Valley has been losing power more frequently in recent years – and for longer periods of time. Many people have responded by purchasing back-up generators. But wouldn’t it be nice to truly live off the grid? (Sandy’s howling winds might seem a lot less threatening!) There are some technically adept folks out there making do with biofuels (wood pellets, for example), or even finding ways to store energy from photovoltaic panels. For most of us, this type of energy self-sufficiency is a ways off. But now is the right time to advocate for more investment in renewable energy, invest our own funds in the stock of renewable energy companies, find ways to use less energy at home and choose renewable electricity providers, such a PECO Wind or Green Mountain Power, when those options are available.
  3. Grow your own food. The idea of supplying your household with food – whether through gardening, raising livestock or hunting – becomes increasingly appealing when state officials are telling you to make plans to sustain yourself for a week or longer. While the Delaware River Valley gardening season is largely over, some of us have begun planting fall crops, building hoop houses and “putting up” our summer harvest for just such a “rainy day.” Beyond growing your own, you can help make your community’s food supply more secure by buying from local farmers through farmer’s markets, farm-owned groceries or CSAs (community-supported agriculture).
  4. Make your own stuff. The DIY movement in home crafts has been growing since before the financial crisis. Partly a reaction to consumerism, DIY living can enable you to live on less, be prepared in an emergency and enjoy the creativity and fulfillment that comes from producing something by hand.

Creating a more local, DIY lifestyle takes time and effort. You may want to start slowly and tackle one or two areas of particular interest to you. In the meantime, stay safe and dry during and after Hurricane Sandy.