Lifeboat farm is our escape pod from city life to a more fulfilling lifestyle in the beautiful Wairarapa. In a nutshell, we wanted a lifestyle that was both rewarding by today’s standards, but also resilient enough to cope with any changes life or the world might throw at us. We love the social network we have here and the opportunities we have to build strong connections with people in all walks of life that think a bit like we do.
We both (Karen and John) come from IT backgrounds, so you might see a bit of technology around the farm. I try to keep the blog as an objective record of what we’re doing day to day and relatively rant-free. If you’d like more of my justification for our move here, you can read the rest of the post below or head over to farmgeek.co.nz – my 100% rant blog.
Thanks for stopping by
Karen and John
Hedging an Uncertain Future (first published on Farmgeek.co.nz October 2007)
I came across this article by Jeff Vail recently and for me, it crystallized a lot of the thoughts I have already had about navigating our uncertain future (and alludes to some plans we already have underway). We all know the only certainty in life is change, but I firmly believe the rate of change in the way we live is soon to ramp up. While nobody can know what the future holds, we can make some educated guesses based on what we know.
I have to put my hand up as a peak oil pessimist. I’ve been studying Peak Oil and it’s consequences for a good few years now and what I’ve learned, combined with my assessment of human nature, doesn’t exactly fill me with hope. Whether the clouds on our horizon are peak oil, climate change, overpopulation or environmental collapse, the knowledge of the threats is widely available and the range of rational solutions is wide. Will we as a society recognise and respond to any of these threats while the media, industry and our political leaders skip merrily hand in hand whistling a happy tune? Let’s just say nobody ever got elected by giving people bad news. Whatever the future holds, I strongly suspect much of it will come as a surprise to most of the populace, and when our ingrained sense of entitlement to our current way of life meets reality head on, there will be more than a few tantrums. Probably all the stages of grieving will be represented in our collective reaction to whatever befalls us – disbelief, anger, sadness and probably, when it’s too late for anything else, acceptance. All the things we have taken for granted for the last few decades will be far from certain. The ways in which we source and use energy, food and wealth could look very different in the near future. As a consequence, the way we interact as a society will have to change wildly too.
So how to respond to an uncertain future? The idea of hedging is not new. It happens regularly in the world of finance. Many businesses hedge against foreign currency fluctuations by buying forward cover and hedging positions are common in commodities trading. Jeff discusses a lot of financial hedging relating to oil prices and US dollar strength. He makes the point that hedging tends to be a zero-sum game, meaning you can use hedging to mitigate, but not win in a given situation. Taking a bet each way on a given outcome will only pay off on one side of the bet, so you don’t lose, but then you don’t win either.
Other forms of hedging I’m thinking about are more about making life and career choices that will give you the ability to weather uncertainty (or even thrive in it). Unlike financial hedging, lifestyle hedging can provide multiples winning outcomes from a single solution. The key to hedging your lifestyle is to build a life that works for you now, but still functions in the face of change (even catastrophic change). As an example, the first of our lifestyle hedges is to be debt free. This is a great goal at the best of times, but in a period of social or economic upheaval, it allows you to weather a lot more uncertainty when you can uncouple your property ownership and your lifestyle from the requirement for one or two large incomes.
Our personal action plan has kicked off with the purchase of a new house and property in New Zealand’s Wairarapa region that allows us to pursue that goal, but still be within commuting distance (90 minutes by train) of a large city. The other benefit of this particular hedge is that we will have more space, time and money to pursue a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle.
Hedge number two – we will be growing a lot more of our own food, including keeping some livestock for eating. Again, it’s a great strategy in times of adversity, but until then we’ll know where our food comes from and be able to prepare it in healthy and relaxing ways. There’s a beautiful convergence happening where movements like slow food, eating local, organics and the rise of artisan foods are coming together to create lifestyles that are not only immensely satisfying, but also sustainable and resilient in the face of change.
These movements all foster higher degrees of cooperation and interdependence than the industrial food system we rely on now (and the health benefits speak for themselves). Which brings me to our next hedge. I believe one of the most important elements missing from our society currently is a sense of community – of families, tribes or groups that depend on each other in close-knit, mutually beneficial relationships. Traditional survivalist thinking runs along the lines of “beans, bullets and gold” – as long as you stock up on them all, you’ll get through. That’s fine, as long as a) we’re talking a short term problem you’re holding out against, and b) someone with more bullets doesn’t come along and take your beans and gold. Being part of a close-knit community, sharing common bonds and experiences is the surest way to weather adversity. The more complex the network between producers and consumers, the better. For that to work, everyone has to bring something to the table.
To that end, you can’t have too many skills. Gardening and food production would be logical preferences, but lots of other skills from carpentry to dentistry will always be in demand. Jeff Vail raises the point of leverage. A small investment in a utensil or skill now may turn out be irrelevant in the future, or it may prove enormously valuable if it saves your life or gives some future advantage. Maybe hoarding things with value in hard times, like chocolate or razorblades during WWII rationing for example, might work (Vail uses the purchase of a shotgun as his example). My preference would be to learn skills that can be translated into value in the future, but that also give you enjoyment as a hobby now. I went to a cheese-making workshop recently and that definitely qualifies as a fun, delicious hobby that might one day be quite handy.
Traditional employment can be hedged too. Karen and I both enjoy careers that involve a lot of information-processing work, making them quite transferable and mobile. The more your daily job involves information rather than physical “doing”, the more likely you’ll be able to work remotely or pursue flexible hours. When your physical location doesn’t impact your income so much you have a lot more choice about where you can live.
To summarise, hedging can take the form of independence – from the bank, from the utility company, or from the industrial food system. It can also be interdependence – in communities that share your values and in which you can play a valuable role. Our personal strategies are just that – our attempt to prepare for an uncertain future. We’re hoping we can have it all – the lifestyle we want and an increased certainty about the future. Will it work? Who knows – by no means do I pretend to have all the answers, but now you know where we’re coming from and if you want to share some ideas, feel free to get in touch – John
As my good friend Royden says “you can’t save the world, but you can save yourself”