Archive for January 7, 2010

opting out

January 7, 2010 12 comments

By Oliver Douglas
EarthBlog News©

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I have received a number of thoughtful emails on the subject of self sufficiency and avoidance of a declining standard of living. I have also had quite a few comments regarding emigration. I’d like to address those questions and comments today. This is something I’ve written about extensively to EarthBlog subscribers over the course of the past few years.

We (our family) had considered emigration three years ago when it became obvious to me what was going on and what the future path was likely to be. We looked at New Zealand, with the idea that this was a stable economy, a natural resource producer and a beautiful place with nice, friendly people. To make a long story short, there became two major issues regarding emigration.

1.) The logistics of moving a family and extended family half way around the world to an unfamiliar place are overwhelming and pose a lot of personal issues

2.) Given an expected increasing level of uncertainty and Chaos, how can you be sure you are picking the right place in advance?

Furthermore, given that the US has had one of the highest standards of living of any country, was it possible that when all is said and done, the standard of living in the US will still exceed the standard of living in many places you opt to emigrate to?

So we thoroughly considered the emigration equation, and decided instead for an opt out strategy. It isn’t a perfect solution and I don’t think there is a perfect solution to the decay I see continuing.

All that said, I am not saying emigration would not be a good strategy. I’m just saying that for me, for us, it posed logistical problems. For example, If  I spoke Italian and had family in a small town in Italy we might be there now. If my honkey skin could take the tropical sun we might be in Costa Rica. This is what I mean by saying there is no perfect solution and any proposed solution is different for everyone.

What exactly is an opt out strategy?

We currently live in a dense metro area and are completely reliant on other people, other institutions and other agencies for our standard of living. Given an expectation of increased disorganization, bankruptcy and even chaos, the idea is that if you can increase your own personal self reliance, then you can more effectively maintain a standard of living.

So what does this mean?

It probably means something different for everyone. My background is in engineering and I know enough to be dangerous in the realm of alternative power, construction and I can fix a car…that sort of thing. I understand how things work and I can fix things. I can wield a hammer or a soldering iron. So given my background, and our desire, we set out to find a parcel of land that we could develop as we wished with the idea that we would effectively have a self sufficient functional plot with few if any dependencies on external infrastructure, the government, or any other entity.

So two years ago we spent a lot of time touring the US to find a suitable candidate. We had a rough idea of what we were looking for….

1.) A beautiful place

2.) good climate and suitable conditions for farming and keeping animals

3.) we wanted out own water source

4.) we wanted low taxes

5.) we wanted a high degree of property rights, no deed restrictions and full mineral and energy rights below the surface

In short, we were looking for a desirable piece of land, in a nice place, fairly isolated from any large city and to be able to do whatever we wanted with the land.

We took a hard look at Northern California. We spent a week there. Northern California is a beautiful place, but we had issues.

1.) High taxes and a high cost of living
2.) A state we expected might go bankrupt (it subsequently did)
3.) A high degree of government imposed property ownership restrictions

So although nice, Northern California did not meet several of our key requirements.

We also toured Vermont. There were a lot of things we liked a lot about Vermont, but one thing we didn’t like. It’s very cold in Vermont and we were looking for an easier climate with a longer growing season.

To shorten this up, fast forward to the Appalachian foothills. We took a hard look in the southern mountain states, areas of low population density and areas with good fertile land. Two years ago we made a decision to narrow our search to North Carolina. We toured the area, and we located a Realtor with a set of requirements we were looking for and the basic geographical area we liked. Six months later we got a call regarding a 10 acre parcel that was not listed for sale but the owner needed to sell for financial reasons. This property offered what we were looking for.

1.) A private creek, which originated from a mountain spring 1/2 mile away.
2.) An area rich in natural resources which was formerly a part of the Carolina gold rush. The land was known to produce precious metals and gems had been found in the creek.
3.) Very low taxes
4.) No deed restrictions, unzoned land where essentially you can do whatever you want
5.) Wildlife, good growing conditions, and beautiful natural surroundings
6.) Relative isolation but good road access and nearby small towns full of friendly people

So we took some capital out of Wall Street and the banking system and purchased this land with the idea of developing a nice place to live, independent on what is going on in Washington or the rest of the country for that matter. There are two small towns within 15 miles, good access roads, and yet the property is isolated enough so that a lot of bad things could happen and unless you turned on a TV set, you wouldn’t even know about it. Late in 2008 when it looked like the financial system was coming undone, that property looked exactly the same regardless of what was happening on Wall Street or inside the government. We have bobcats and bears and coyotes and whitetail deer and any number of other animal residents, but the human population density is only around 50 people per square mile and the majority of the county is National Forest.

At this time, we have already done a lot; we have established a basic infrastructure with a good road, power, a well, a pond fed by the creek with fish in it, and we have built a large building and a cabin. We have a lot more construction to do, and our target is to have a place with a low level of dependency on any entity by 2012.

We had the good fortune to meet someone through our realtor, a local man born and raised in the county who was proficient with anything from an excavator and earth mover to a hammer. For anyone thinking about a project like this, there is no substitute for finding a competent and trustworthy local helper who can not only work for you, but probably grew up with everyone in the county who you have to deal with. It turns out that in areas like we are in, there are two prices for a lot of things…there is the price a local pays, and the price a tourist or outsider pays. You want to pay the local price. The people are predominantly poor in areas like this. They don’t have a lot to spend and their cost of living is low. During the course of our development so far, this has saved us six figures.

Currently we are planning to move there permanently in 2011, and to be off the grid (or at least tied to the grid but with zero net energy use) and independent by the following year. So far it has been a lot of work and taken a lot of time, but it has been very rewarding to watch our vision come together. This fall we stocked our pond with fish and we have been planting fruit trees for two years now.

I continue to believe that the best way to endure chaos is to remove yourself from the chaotic system as much as possible. We’re on track to do that, and if it all comes together as I hope it will, Wall Street or Washington could implode and it wouldn’t really matter so much to us.

If you are interested in following this adventure, I am in the process of creating a new blog site to discuss the details.

Opting Out
Maintaining a Standard
of Living.