A Few Thoughts on Studying the Most Radical Social Movement of the Twenty-first Century

First published by John Foran, on Resilience.org  | MAR 14, 2016

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Introduction

We are living through an unprecedented crisis, in a world beset by massive social problems – the obscene poverty and inequality that neoliberal capitalist globalization has wreaked on at least two-thirds of humanity, the immobility of the political elite almost everywhere, and cultures of violence that poison our lives from the most intimate relations to the mass murder of the world’s wars.

These interconnected problems are rooted in long-standing processes of inequality – patriarchy, racism, colonialism, capitalism, and now corporate-controlled globalization – whose ongoing, overlapping legacies are making the early twenty-first century a crucial hinge of history.

And now, with climate change, we are facing a perfect storm of suffering. In fact, given the timeline that climate science is screaming at us, we confront a crisis of humanity and of all species that must be resolved for better or worse by those living on this precarious planet today.  We are called by the urgency of the crisis to “change everything” as Naomi Klein puts it, and to do so in something like the next two decades.

With other observers, activists, and scholars I believe that only the assembling of the broadest, most powerful social movement the world has ever seen has a chance of doing this in the narrow window the science imposes on us. The movements for environmental, climate, and social justice that I have spent my life studying and now participate in must become much stronger than at present.  But my reading of world history leads me to believe that they can succeed.  They must, if we are to safely navigate the present crisis and even come out of it living in ways that are far more egalitarian, deeply democratic, and fulfilling than the world we presently inhabit.

Those of us who are academics (or journalists, or writers and creators of culture of every kind) need to focus our minds now, I think, on the “wicked” problem of climate change, to reinvigorate our own disciplines and work on our interdisciplinary skills (another way of saying learning how to connect the dots) and bring all this into a wide open dialogue, in ways that are consistent with the first principle of sociology, of ecology, of systems thinking, and, ironically enough, of Buddhism, as I understand it (and of Gaia theory, for that matter):  everything is connected.

How Strong is the Climate Justice Movement?

The movement I study and am part of is growing, getting bigger, stronger, smarter, more diverse, and more creative with every passing year – and that’s important.

But it’s still not enough.

The task – and the question on every scholar-activist’s mind – is how do we get from where we are to where we need to be?  And how do we do that thoughtfully, quickly, and for the long haul?

If I had to try to sum up the broad outlines of what the climate justice movement is planning going into 2016, it would be something like Resist, Rethink, Retool, Re-imagine…

What Happened in Paris at the UN Climate Summit?

Let’s do a global stock take – as the UNFCCC [United Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees the annual climate summits] likes to call it – of the recent “Paris Agreement.”  I’ve thought about this a fair amount, gathering into a bundle some of the fascinatingly divergent analyses, and as Paris recedes into the rear view mirror, more and more I’m coming to the view that that’s where it belongs – behind us.  Paris comes down to a cynical joke played on the peoples of the world.

The Paris Agreement calls on the world to keep global warming “well under 2 degrees, and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible.” That is useful, but like the rest of the high-minded words in this non-binding agreement, it is merely “voluntary” and “aspirational,” and at the rate these negotiations have been going for two decades, it will take at least the next ten COPs for them to get any traction (the COP refers to the Conferences of the Parties, as the climate negotiations are called, followed by the number of years since the first in 1995, making Paris COP 21).

We can’t let them delay that long, or the window for two degrees will close…

I titled my blog post on the day of the treaty “Paper Heroes.”  I think I may have stumbled onto one of the deep truths of what went down.  Paris was so triumphalist and so flimsy that it bears comparison to the shrillness of the know nothing/do nothing crowing of the Trump campaign. 

Will the movement use it against its architects (the well-meaning capitalist reformists of the UNFCCC and the enlightened wing of the one percent) and against our enemies – the fossil fuel industry, the political elites, the rich, the banks, and all the rest?  That’s a certainty.

Will we throw the cynical references to indigenous rights, a gender perspective, vulnerable nations, human rights, and intergenerational equity into their faces?  Yes, we will.

Will we seize on the phrase “climate justice, as some call it” they so patronizingly let appear in the text – yes, we intend to make them come to rue the day they wrote them, and force them to understand these words, if we can.

To hold the line on climate change to “dangerous” levels (that is the best we can do, and we are headed for “extremely dangerous” – in all probability catastrophic – at present), we would need something akin to a radical climate moonshot, an ecosocialist World War II-type war effort, a great transformation of everything that is so wrong about the world we live in.  Everything.

How do we do it? Or “What I’ve learned about how to change society radically (in a good sense, of course!) in the last thirty-six years…”

Revolutions – and other movements for radical social change[1] – require broadly-based alliances of people from multiple classes, both (or more) genders, and cross-racial/ethnic alliances to succeed.

People get involved in such movements when one or more political cultures of opposition and resistance gain adherents (Foran 2014).  The origins of such political cultures start with the experiences of people, in the grievances they endure and the emotional and political responses they fashion using every available cultural tool and historical memory they possess. For example, when collective discourses like environmentalism or feminism are available in the form of consciously articulated ideologies, would-be social actors take them up and put them to work locally, and in this way they tend to diffuse through activist groups into local settings and circulate among social movements. Perhaps more importantly, popular idioms or folk understandings – what student of revolutions Eric Selbin calls “rich stories,” or cross-generational political imaginaries in the language of my research partner Richard Widick – are also available for use, providing new social actors as well as seasoned activists with locally understood, everyday terms such as fairness, justice, or democracy. In the case of climate activism, this might mean justice, buen vivir, historical responsibility, or intergenerational equity.

When these take hold in a large enough social group or wider society, often through the work of some kind of radical/progressive organization or network, a social movement can gain enough committed followers to take decisive action. The forging of a strong and vibrant political culture of opposition is thus a collective accomplishment, carried through by the actions of many people.

In any given society, there usually exist multiple political cultures of opposition, for people do not necessarily share the same experiences, speak similar idioms, or respond as one to the call of formal ideologies. The most effective social movements find ways of bridging the differences through the skillful creation of a common goal, such as the concise demand for “System change, not climate change!” raised at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. When this happens, a movement’s chances of growth and success are considerably increased.

Such alliances, and the political cultures of opposition that motivate them, are an indispensable factor in the making and success of revolutions.

There are, of course, also political and economic factors involved in a revolution’s success.  I explored these in depth, and developed a model of the causes of revolutions in Taking Power:  On the Origins of Third World Revolutions.

Unfortunately, all twentieth-century and anti-colonial social revolutions fell short of the achieving the dreams of those who made them.  The reasons for this include:

~ fragmentation of the broad revolutionary alliance after it came to power

~ intense outside pressures, usually from the First World, often from the U.S.

~ pre-existing inequalities, both within and between countries

~ lack of popular participation in governing (related to the first factor)

But 21st-century movements for radical social change – recall that my definitions is not restricted to revolutions – look different from their 20th-century counterparts because:

~ they are mostly non-violent

~ they are more horizontally organized

~ they are even more diverse

~ they have dynamic new political cultures of opposition and resistance

They also feature exciting political cultures of creation…  Movements become even stronger when to a widely felt culture of opposition and resistance they add a positive vision of a better world, an alternative to strive for that might improve or replace what exists. As David Pellow  has put it: “Many movements begin with a grievance or a critique, but what sustains them and pushes people out into the streets (or underground) is often a vision, a dream of something better.”

These movements are coming to power or attempting to do so, in some strikingly new ways: through elections, as in the case of the “Pink Tide” governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela (and now attempting this in Europe, or even with the Bernie Sanders campaign);  through occupations of public spaces, as in the wave of the Occupy movements of 2011 and others since;  through regional or local power-taking, or of re-making the nature of power altogether, as the Zapatistas have been doing in Chiapas since 1994; and through global networks such as the global justice movement of the 2000s, and now the global climate justice movement.

All of these movements are increasingly intersectional in terms of both their social make-up (crossing race/ethnic, gender, and class lines) and the issues they are connecting the dots of.

The movements that are most likely to succeed will feature some new combination of 1) stronger social movements and political cultures of opposition and creation, and 2) new kinds of parties, joined in 3) some new kind of networked structure, and 4) operating locally, nationally, and globally.

In a nutshell, the sum of my study of revolutions and movements for radical social change in the 20th and 21st centuries so far is this:

We may need a combination of both a dense network of movements and a totally new type of political party to achieve anything like deep radical social change.

These movements will have to develop both powerful political cultures of opposition, and compelling political cultures of creation.

At least these are hypotheses for scholar-activists to debate!

Conclusion:  What is to be done?

As for the global climate justice movement, might it prove to be the most radical social movement of the twenty-first century?

It could if we make it so.  We need to operate on all levels:  local to global, and from short-range defensive action against every fossil fuel project and electoral ploy, to medium-range reforms (like the Bernie Sanders campaign perhaps?  Come to think of it, the Sanders campaign is pretty short range at the moment, isn’t it?), to long-range radical (anti- or post- capitalist?) change.

With the added challenge that definition of “medium-range” in our critical present moment has been shortened to something like “from now to the next four years” and “long-range” “from now to the next 10-15 years” because that’s all we’ve got to bend the arc of climate justice.

But it can be done.  We will not “save” the world.  My reading of climate science makes me agree with ecosocialist scholar-activist Brad Hornick on this point:

All thinking clearly about climate and political realities can do is change the nature of the struggle.

It’s not an easy prospect as it requires heart-wrenching personal and collective existential crisis (questioning meaning in all facets of life and work).

I’ll say it now: there is conclusive evidence-based scientific determination of irreversible physical changes that will by necessity cause catastrophic destruction to civilization in the coming decades. Full stop.

We are at the point where we need to acknowledge these truths. It will come now or later – and if it comes later it will hit us much harder, and will mean deterioration in the relevance of certain life/work/political strategies.

It’s hard to say it better than that.  Consider this essay a wake-up call, colleagues.  A call to arms, comrades.  The time is now.  We are the available ones.  All of us.

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[1] Radical social change means, for me, “a deep transformation of a society (or other entity such as a community, region, or the whole world) in the direction of greater economic equality and political participation, accomplished by the actions of a strong and diverse popular movement.”

Borrow, Save, Share: 3 Ways Seeds Can Democratize Our Food System

Originally published on Yes Magazine authored by Neil Thapar.

Just six companies control 63 percent of the commercial seed market. But seed libraries offer us an opportunity to reclaim the seed commons and create our own community food systems.

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Our food system is broken and needs to be fixed, many say. But it isn’t broken. In fact, I think it’s working exactly how it was intended. The current food system, and the legal rules that govern it, have been built by and for only the largest producers, retailers, and manufacturers. The bigger the better, the logic goes, which is why our food economy is dominated by large, increasingly consolidated, vertically integrated corporations.

An especially consolidated sector of our food system is the seed economy; for example, just six companies control 63 percent of the commercial seed market. Because most of our food starts off as seed, instead of trying to fix a system that isn’t intended to work for the vast majority of people, animals, or the planet, we should try to create our own.

 If we want more equitable access to healthy, affordable food grown locally by small farmers who steward natural resources responsibly, this is exactly what we need to do. The task is tall, but so achievable, especially if we all commit to working together in the right direction. Here are three simple steps we can take to reintroduce democracy back into our seed system and into our neighborhoods.

1. Borrow

If you haven’t been to your local library recently, you might be surprised to find a seed library there. Across the United States, there are about 400 of these community-based seed sharing initiatives, which allow neighbors to share seeds with one another. It basically works like this: You borrow seeds, grow the plant, harvest almost all of the fruit (which you eat!), and save and return some of the seeds back to the library, where others will repeat the process. Seed librarian extraordinaire Rebecca Newburn, cofounder of Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, says it like this: “It’s like checking out a book, except that you’ve added a chapter when you return it.”

Seed libraries make seeds freely available to its members or the public, relying on reciprocity and a sense of interdependence to ensure that its stock is continually replenished. By treating seeds as a common resource to be stewarded for the public benefit, libraries create what is called the seed commons. The commons reframes our role in relationship to seeds as that of caretakers instead of owners. While owners only have a responsibility to themselves, caretakers have a responsibility to the seeds and to the community that placed them under their care. By bringing seeds into the commons, we have the power to democratize access to, and control over, one of our basic necessities: food.

2. Save

Seed saving is nothing new. If anything, it’s likely one of the oldest continuous human traditions, going back some 10,000 years. Just in the last century or so, we as a society have lost—and been removed from—our connection to seed. In this time, seeds have been transformed from a common resource into a commodity, bought and sold and owned by fewer and fewer companies.

But saving seed is not necessarily simple. That’s why libraries exist as educational resources to help us rediscover the art and skill involved with it. Re-skilling ourselves means that we will be able to provide healthy foods to ourselves and our families, build community resilience in the face of climate change, and rediscover the cultural history and significance attached to the seeds we save.

In practice, it also means growing food for ourselves and our communities. The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on a global food system that prioritizes profit over environmental, human, or animal welfare. It also means that we are buying and selling food locally, circulating our dollars in our communities, and generating local wealth. Seed saving is at once an act of resistance and renewal.

3. Share

The success of our new food system relies equally on our independence from the current system as it does on our interdependence on each other. What that simply means is that we should share more and sharemore equitably. We should share both the risk and the reward, the profits and the losses, the efforts and the outcomes. By sharing, we also begin to take part in an alternative economy, one not based on transacting money for goods or services, but on relationships, gift giving, and mutual aid. At a time when dollars in our economy are increasingly scarce and consolidated in the hands of the wealthy few, sharing gives us the means to provide for ourselves.

In particular, sharing seeds is an easy place to start, because seeds by their nature almost beg to be shared. One tomato plant might produce upwards of 500 seeds, which, in theory, could be planted in 500 different gardens the next season. Now, imagine that 100 households grow five crops each to share their seeds. It’s not difficult to picture the multiplying effect community-based seed sharing could have on the total amount of local food production!

Yet no good deed goes unpunished. Right now, seed libraries across the country are struggling to protect their ability to facilitate local sharing. In partnership with others, Sustainable Economies Law Center, where I work, has been leading a campaign to raise public awareness of this struggle and to advocate on behalf of seed sharing organizations. You can learn more about it at our Save Seed Sharing website.

Creating a true bottom-up democracy means that we need to envision democracy not just in our government but in all aspects of our lives. Civic engagement is not just about choosing who to vote for—it’s also about choosing how and where to spend a dollar. Seed libraries offer us an opportunity to become more civically engaged by reintroducing democracy into the food economy, reclaiming the seed commons, and empowering communities to begin creating their own local food systems.

 

Neil Thapar wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Neil is a staff attorney at Sustainable Economies Law Center and leads its Food and Farmland programs. He is passionate about building collective power to recreate healthy, just, and resilient food systems. Follow him on Twitter @NeilThapar.

Sweden to become the world’s first nation to end reliance on fossil fuels

First Published on : http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/sweden-become-worlds-first-nation-end-reliance-fossil-fuels/

The Scandinavian nation already meets two-thirds of its electricity requirements from non-fossil fuels energy sources, mainly hydroelectric and nuclear.

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City of Stockholm, picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Swedish government announced that they plan on spending an extra 546 million USD as a part of their climate change action in 2016. It would be too soon to put a ceiling on the time-frame within which this mission will be completed.

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Wind energy in Sweden

What you may not know is that this Scandinavian nation already meets two-thirds of its electricity requirements from non-fossil fuels energy sources which are predominately hydroelectric and nuclear. The focus will now shift to increasing the solar and wind energy potential, and at the same time, making its transport industry more sustainable. In order to suffice the budget increase, heavier taxes will be levied on petrol and diesel.

The budget will also cover the manufacture of smarter grids, electric bus fleets, subsidies for green cars and on renewable energy storage technology. This quantum leap should come as no surprise since Sweden already has quite an impressive track record when it comes to climate change action. Several cities across the globe are already in the process of making this switch and are eliminating fossil fuels with huge success.

5 EYE-OPENING GLOBAL TRENDS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

Originally Published by: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/5-eye-opening-global-trends-you-should-know-about/

5eyeopening_1It’s not easy to keep track of the complex ways in which our everyday choices have an impact on a global scale. But as the world’s population surpasses 7 billion, each of our actions—positive or negative—gets multiplied. Read on to learn about five global trends from our latest publication, Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, that show that our consumption choices affect more than ourselves—they affect the environment and the lives and livelihoods of millions.

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  1. WE ARE PRODUCING 25 TIMES MORE MEAT TODAY THAN IN 1800.
    Since 1800, the rate of meat production has outpaced human population growth by a factor of over three. In 2013, we produced an estimated 308.5 million tons of meat, more than ever before in a single year. That year, people worldwide ate an average of nearly 43 kilograms of meat each.

    Who’s driving the trend? Asia leads the world in meat production, generating close to 43 percent of the 2013 global output. Europe, North America, and South America follow far behind. People in industrial countries continue to eat much larger quantities (76 kilograms per person in 2013) than those in developing nations (34 kilos per person).

    What does this trend mean? The livestock sector uses industrial methods that consume large quantities of water, feed, grazing land, synthetic fertilizers, and antibiotics. Beef is by far the most intensive of meats, requiring more than 15,000 liters of water per kilogram of meat produced. Beef production also uses three fifths of global farmland despite its yield of less than 5 percent of the world’s protein and less than 2 percent of its calories.

    What can be done? Supporting the switch of feed from grains to grass or other plants (to reduce direct competition with crops that otherwise could be used directly as food); using natural instead of synthetic fertilizers; and ending factory-style livestock operations could reduce environmental and health impacts. Dietary choices, such as eating less meat or choosing less resource-intensive meats, also make a difference.5eyeopening_3

  2. DESPITE HAVING ACCESS TO RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGIES, WE ARE CONSUMING MORE COAL THAN EVER BEFORE.
    Since 1950, the amount of coal consumed worldwide has nearly quadrupled (from just over 1 billion tons of oil equivalent to 3.8 billion tons in 2013). Because of strong demand and low prices, the coal supply also is getting “dirtier.” That means that the coal we’re paying for has a lower energy content than before, resulting in more coal being burned (and more pollution generated) for the same amount of heat.

    Who’s driving the trend? The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 70 percent of global coal consumption in 2013, although the country is quickly diversifying its energy sources through solar technologies and natural gas. In the United States, coal consumption has been decreasing, despite the continued growth in demand for electricity, in large part due to the switch to domestic shale gas. In the European Union, coal consumption has been decreasing since 1990, thanks to reduced energy intensity and growing reliance on renewables.

    What does this trend mean? Coal is the dirtiest energy source we use today. Without curbing consumption and related emissions, we likely will fail to keep global warming below the 2 degree Celsius threshold.

    What can be done? Supporting meaningful, binding multilateral agreements on climate change would help stop the rise of coal. Decreasing our energy intensity and promoting lower costs for renewables would further reduce coal’s share within global energy production.5eyeopening5

  3. THERE ARE NOW OVER 1 BILLION AUTOMOBILES ON THE PLANET.
    The world’s fleet of light-duty vehicles (such as passenger cars and light trucks) has grown so much that there is now one car for every seven people on the planet. Of these, only about 400,000 were electric vehicles at the start of 2014—or only 1 out of every 2,500 cars.

    Who’s driving the trend? The United States and Japan have the world’s largest vehicle fleets. China, now in third place, skyrocketed the size of its fleet over the last decade, growing over 10-fold from 2000 (3.8 million) to 2011 (43.2 million). Most electric cars are in the United States (144,000), Japan (68,000), and China (45,000).

    What does this trend mean? Today’s light-duty vehicles consume on average 7.2 liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers and contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

    What can be done? Higher fuel efficiency is needed to limit automobiles’ contribution to environmental problems. Alternative vehicles—such as hybrids and electric cars—help reduce local air pollution, but will only make a difference with regard to greenhouse gas emissions if the electricity they use is produced with renewable energy.5eyeopening_6

  4. MILLIONS OF TONS OF PLASTICS STILL MAKE THEIR WAY TO LANDFILLS AND OCEANS EACH YEAR.
    Even though most plastic is recyclable, between 22 and 43 percent of plastic worldwide is disposed of in landfills. And each year, 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans.

    Who’s driving the trend? Western Europeans and North Americans consume the most plastic per person, using 100 kilograms of plastic per person each year. Asia currently uses just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow. In Europe, about a quarter of plastic was recycled and a third was burned for energy in 2012. In the United States, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012.

    What does this trend mean? When plastic is not recycled, it is often sent to a landfill where its resources are wasted, it takes up valuable space, and it blights communities. Plastic in oceans can entangle seabirds, whales, and dolphins or get transferred up the food chain as small particles get ingested, carrying chemical pollutants from prey to predator. Some toxic additives in plastic products—such as colorings, flame retardants, and plasticizers—have been linked to health issues.

    What can be done? Along with reducing unnecessary plastics consumption, finding more environmentally friendly packaging alternatives, and improving product and packaging design to use less plastic, many challenges associated with plastic could be addressed by improving management of the material across its life cycle. Governments, companies, and consumers can work together to encourage recycling.5eyeopening_7

  5. WHILE GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS ARE TOUTED AS A MEANS TO ALLEVIATE HUNGER, THEIR DEMAND IS DRIVEN BY ANIMAL FEED AND OIL—NOT BY FOOD CONSUMED DIRECTLY BY PEOPLE.
    Since they were first commercialized in the early 1990s, genetically modified (GM) crops have reached a global plantation area of 181 million hectares (2014). The most commonly planted GM crops were soybeans (used for animal feed and oil), maize (used for animal feed), cotton, and canola (used for oil).

    Who’s driving the trend? North America and South America accounted for 87 percent of the global GM plantation area in 2014. A small handful of companies that develop and market GM crops have a near-monopoly on the US$15.7 billion industry (as of 2014).

    What does this trend mean? While GM crops often result in saved time and effort in farming, they also can result in loss of land and livelihoods when less resourceful and less protected farmers are taken over by those with more assets. Growing more crops for animal feed is driving numerous environmental problems, from pollution to deforestation. Finally, crops that are modified to be herbicide-tolerant may be losing their advantage as herbicide resistance develops in weeds.

    What can be done? In the next 5–10 years, GM crops likely will continue to expand, as 71 new GM strains have undergone field trials. Rigorous regulatory frameworks based on case-by-case assessments will be needed to protect farmers and the environment.

As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day. Once we see ourselves as part of the larger puzzle, we are better able to choose what we buy, how we eat, and for whom we cast our ballot.

Aichi family free of utility bills after turning to firewood, solar power

By: Chunichi Shimbun Originally published in Japan Times

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A family in the city of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, is experimenting with self-sufficient living by using solar energy to generate their own electricity instead of purchasing it from a utility.

Since moving to the mountainous area of the Asahi district nine months ago, the family has adopted various energy-conservation methods, including using firewood, and has successfully managed to avoid utility costs.

The project was started by professor Masao Takano from Nagoya University’s Graduate School of Environmental Studies.

He began contemplating the feasibility of living only on natural energy after experiencing rolling blackouts in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

Yuji Shimono, 45, a regular office worker, and his wife, Tomoko, 38, volunteered to take part in the experiment in November.

The couple relocated to Toyota from the Aichi city of Chiryu, along with their two children, 7-year-old Kako and 5-year-old Masataka.

“In summer, daytime is longer so it’s easier to prepare dinner. In winter, I have to start at 4 p.m.,” Tomoko explained while firing up some food.

In the background, the natural sound of birds fill the air as she prepares dinner.

Tomoko cooks in front of the bright entrance area of the house in order to save electricity.

The Shimono family does not own a refrigerator, rice cooker or stove. Instead, Tomoko uses a nukakudo, a portable stove often used for camping, to cook rice by burning Japanese cedar tree leaves and chaff.

“Nukakudo and firewood are the two most essential items in our lives now,” she said.japan_2

She stores vegetables on a shelf near the kitchen door, away from the sunlight.

The family considered getting an environmentally friendly refrigerator, but decided against it in the end.

“For perishable food with a short expiry date like meat and fish, we eat them on the same day we purchase them,” Tomoko explained.

The family also uses firewood for heating and for hot water.japan_3

Since the temperature is cool in the mountains, they do not need an air conditioner in summer.

They only use electricity for the washing machine, to charge their cellphones and laptops, for lighting, the rice huller and iron.

Their one-story house is made of Japanese cedar and cypress and is not connected to any power lines.

In addition to six solar panels installed on the roof, generating up to 145 watts each, they also reserve about 10 kilowatts per hour for rainy days.

Like any other household, the Shimonos had been using a refrigerator and air conditioner prior to beginning this experiment. However, they were conscious of self-sufficiency as well, preferring to sew some of their own clothes and grow their own vegetables.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to (this lifestyle),” Tomoko said.

The amount of electricity that can be stored in reserve is the equivalent of turning on air conditioning for the entire day in a normal household.

The Shimono family managed to survive the rainy season by waiting for sunny days to do household chores that take up a large amount of electricity, such as ironing and washing clothes.

They consume an average of 300 watts per hour of electricity each day, which is 5 percent of a normal household in Japan and less than half of the energy generated by their solar panels.

“Those who want to relocate to the mountains have to be (cognizant) of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Through this project we have proved that people can grow their own vegetables and rice, and even generate their own electricity if they want to,” said Takano.

It all depends on how people want to live their life, the couple said.

The number of people who want to generate their own electricity has increased in recent years.

According to Shokan Otsuka, architect and chairman of Okayama-based Jienegumi (Natural Energy Group), which offers consultations on energy self-sufficiency, 42 households across Japan have achieved self-sufficiency with their help since the group was established in March 2013, with 13 more in the works.

Otsuka moved to Okayama Prefecture from Fukushima Prefecture after the earthquake in 2011 and has been promoting energy self-sufficiency to his clients ever since.

Most of the people who accepted his pitch are those who have high awareness of environmental issues and “do not want to use electricity from nuclear power plants or power utility companies”.

Half of his clients live in major cities.

“Self-sufficiency is not limited to those living in the countryside. Anybody can achieve it as long as they have an area to install the equipment and enough sunlight,” explained Otsuka.