Raising Kids for a Time of Scarcity

2013-11-05 10.19.27The average American, reading the title of this post, looks around and goes “Huh?” America is an obscenely rich country compared to our peers and by historical standards. We’re so rich that even the cheapest trinkets are shipped from halfway across the world because we’re too rich to make our own trinkets cheaply.

Cheap energy, however, has a defined threshold. Material scarcity is inevitable. Living frugally and sustainably can help us prepare for a world of expensive petroleum, diminishing mineral resources, and wars over access to clean water and arable land. As many parents know, however, it can be difficult to imprint your own values and preparations on the next generation. I don’t claim to be an expert and my kids are still quite young, but here’s a few things I’m trying to inculcate:

  • Homeschooling can be a huge aid when raising your kids in a counter-cultural way. We’re halfway through our first school year with the goblins at home and I notice a huge change in their expressed needs for commercial goods. There’s less pressure to own the cool backpack, the toys, and take the lavish trips their friends’ families would take. It’s not a path for every child (or every parent) but I treasure the relaxed atmosphere and the time to enjoy as much nature as we can. Sitting in a classroom for eight hours really saps their desire to be inquisitive, to observe nature at work, and most importantly to learn respect for the world around us.
  • What comes from the earth returns to it. Hands-down, the best experience I had with the goblins from the past few months was when we turned the compost bin and separated out the new soil from the bottom. We had tons of worms working through the dirt, which lit up their faces with wonder. I was surprised just how much they dived in and enjoyed touching and handling something normally considered gross. They understand that while we shouldn’t waste food, what we can’t eat anymore returns to the earth where it came from – and will be a big help when we expand our garden this year.
  • It takes patience, but hands-on gardening with little ones can be a very rewarding activity. Will they break something? Absolutely. Will they pull something that’s not a weed? Of course. But working with plants, becoming connected to their food, that’s worth all the frustration in the world. And you’ll be surprised just how fast kids can work when they put their mind to it. I don’t think we ask enough of our children in that regard.

Coming off a Christmas where my goblins were showered with gifts and we piled bags of trash into our bins, it has me thinking about – what will we do then? Peak oil will probably arrive in my lifetime and certainly within theirs. Technology will provide new solutions, but I have been convinced by people like Mr. Money Mustache and Jacob from ERE that the average American consumes at over 4 times the rate that is sustainable. I made a number of mistakes in the first ten years of adulthood, mistakes that I hope my goblins won’t repeat – and thus will be far better prepared to face the coming scarcity.

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2 Comments on “Raising Kids for a Time of Scarcity”

  1. Dr. Doom says:

    Yes to everything. Peak oil is real, and we’re also quickly running through essential non-renewables like copper and lithium which go into most of our electronics and the batteries which power them. There are also questions about the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans. (Not to be alarmist, but we may already be over it.) It’s going to be a fairly different world 50 years from now. Hopefully we’ll find ways to overcome these challenges, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

    • David says:

      I don’t know enough about sustainable gardening (yet) to comment on the carrying capacity, but minerals and fuel are a hard limit until escaping the gravity well and spreading out into space becomes feasible. Unless we want to live on nutritional yeast or something like that 😛

      We’re just starting our urban homesteading experiment, but so far I’m having fun ripping up my non-edible grass!


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