Browsing Cabin Porn (a photo collection of beautiful cabins) always makes me want to build my own. Living in a cabin is, after all, part of my ‘apple tree‘, which is also supposed to be an ecologically conscionable life. But how sustainable, really, is rural living?
Cities are often accused for being gargantuan consumers of natural resources, devouring energy and wasting food and water literally like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes these accusations are correct, but too often we forget that cities have the potential to be the most efficient living arrangement possible. This is due solely to economies of scale: where people are packed inside a smaller space resources need flow to only one destination. Public transit and electricity grids service a smaller land area. A greater volume of waste and waste water outputs are collected and treated in the same facility. The efficiency gains of a densely populated, compact city can be enormous.
How efficient is it to live in a cabin in the wilderness?
One NYT blog post reader comments: “One good way to judge the morality or sustainability of a proposed course of action is to ask: “What if everybody did what I propose to do?” At least gives an interesting perspective.”
Another has a similar perspective: “Think of green living like this. What if everybody did or will do it? That is – scattered living whether in the woods or corn field exurban sprawl is bad for the environment, especially when there are 7 billion people on the planet and growing. We all can’t live in the woods – if we did – there wood be no woods.”
These two comments made quite an impact on me. It opened up the debate of rural living to considerations that it is less, not more, sustainable than urban living. That, of course, saddened me. The dream of living on (and off) the land has, I think, established itself deeply in the psyche of Western industrialised nations, where some of us yearn for the romance of simplicity.
But there is no romance in treading heavily on this earth, only guilt. Damn the categorical imperative.