There appear to be two divergent ideas as to what a green lifestyle is. The first one focuses on simpler lifestyles, using hand tools and simpler technologies and is strongly associated with moving to the countryside and pursuing the dream of self-sufficiency as advocated by John Seymour and others. Many of us believed that millions of people would leave the cities and seek out a new way of living in the county as some kind of New Age peasantry. It was my dream from childhood. In my mid twenties I bought an old ruin with land (at a time when such things were just possible without huge financial resources) and worked my socks off renovating the ruin and attempting to grow a bit of food. This dream of moving back to the land, making self-build structures and growing food is still a popular dream. The Lammas Project in Pembrokeshire provides inspiration for millions of people. For many people the idea of a collapse of urban civilization associated with Peak Oil is part of this post industrial rural future.
Meanwhile the planet has been urbanizing at breakneck speed. A new vision of a green lifestyle is emerging that is high-tech and urban. In the developed world urbanites tend to have on average lower carbon emissions than rural folk. In dense cities infrastructure can be organised in much more energy efficient ways. Cities like Copenhagen and Oslo are planning and implementing comfortable, affluent zero carbon futures. Car use is falling in most modern cities whereas rural car dependency is a major problem. The best of modern architecture is very energy efficient. Increasingly it is the case that 100% renewable forms of energy can supply reliable energy for heating, cooling, transport, domestic and industrial needs. Cities will not necessarily collapse as the oil wells run dry, but the transition away from oil does need to be well planned and the best investments made.
The two photographs above encapsulate these two visions. One, the straw bale, turf roofed self-build at Lammas with the occupants holding a scythe and hay rake, embodying the spirit of rural New-Age Post-Apocalypse Self-Sufficiency. The other, The Crystal, built by Siemens in London’s docklands to showcase high tech low carbon urban futures. The Crystal has photovoltaic panels, ground source heat pump, rainwater and greywater collection and 3,500 sensors continually monitoring energy use and optimising the buildings performance. It is the first building in the World to be awarded both BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum accreditation.
Which inspires you more? Which will provide a more useful indicator of our future? Maybe many of us will live and work in energy efficient high tech cities for most of the year and holiday in simple structures while re-connecting with nature for a few weeks over the summer? Visions of the future do not need to be exclusive: they can merge and cross fertilise in interesting and fruitful ways!