Over The Cliff Without A Lemming?

Do you ever have the feeling sometimes that you are not doing enough to green up your life, even though in reality, you are probably well ahead of the pack regarding living lighter on the planet? When do you know how much voluntary simplicity is enough?

Well Ghandi put it best when he said “Live simply so that others may simply live.” There is never enough people in western society living a simple lifestyle as far as I am concerned.  I believe that greening, sustainable living, voluntary simplicity, simple living, frugality, is all the same thing in my view.  Good for us, and our home, the Earth and its non-human inhabitants.

However, by just looking around at our consumer culture and the pressure that it exerts on the majority of it’s followers, one could have thrown in the towel long ago, thought “Bugger this for a joke” and joined back in with the rest of the zombies.  That would be choosing the path of less resistance, the easy way out, and if the Borg are anything to go by we all know that “Resistance IS Futile”.

Maybe my family and I are just stubborn, or the simple fact of the matter is that turning back to our old behaviours is no longer a moral option knowing what we know about the state of things.  It is not an economically viable one either if we want to preserve the remaining resources.  We can’t live like we have two more planets in reserve forever.  The western way of life is unsustainable.

So why is western society acting like a pack of lemmings racing towards, and then jumping off a cliff?  Does everyone keep-on-keeping-on because everyone else is doing it?

When I ask this question to myself, I reflect back to my childhood to a certain incident when I got into trouble with my parents for being gullible and easily led astray by a naughty friend.  Here is what happened all those years ago.

I followed my naughty friend’s lead, and stole some flavoured milk out of a cold room located on our dairy farm, knowing too well that it was the wrong thing to do.  Once caught, then questioned by my parents as to why I would do such a thing, I said “Andrew did it first, so I copied him”, to which they both replied, “If Andrew Bradley jumped off a cliff, would you?”.  At that young age I didn’t know what a rhetorical question was, so I answered “No, off course not”.  So why did I steal the milk?  The answer was because someone else did it first.

After a slap across the behind, which I admit was well deserved (chocolate milk cost money that we just didn’t have), I was told not to do what naughty Andrew did ever again, and I didn’t.  This was in effect being told not to succumb to peer group pressure.

If you extrapolate that hard earned lesson out to a societal level, then the question we should be asking ourselves is not am I doing enough, but one of, “If everyone else in the consumer society living in the industrial civilization keeps jumping off a cliff, should you?”  Do we really need to keep following the rest of the lemmings off the cliff into the ocean, only to swim to exhaustion and drown?

Well my answer to myself was a resounding “NO!”  I knew that to get off the wheel in the rat race was going to be difficult, however I knew that it had to be done.  Enough was enough, in the consumption sense anyway, and if I didn’t wake up when I did, it wasn’t going to be pretty financially.

A year into my family’s greening, and after the main capital expenditure of the solar PV, we decided that we would drastically reduce our expenditure because it was the right thing to do for us.  We chose to pay down accumulated debt, instead of throwing ourselves off the consumer culture cliff, with an end result of living lighter on the planet.

By then, we had established the means in which to become a little less reliant on the industrial complex for everyday things like food, water, entertainment, and meaning.  It felt good to be in control of our own destiny, which is a difficult task to achieve within the boundaries of our time.  I liken our journey to a single, determined lemming deciding that the fate at the bottom of the cliff was not for him and he stands fast instead.  The pressure of the other rodents still heading over the edge was taxing and relentless, but the little lemming inched himself away from the cliff face slowly each day.

And this, dear reader, is where I am now.  Still slowly moving away from the edge, sometimes being pushed a little the wrong way, but always focused on the ultimate goal of turning the tide and attempting to convince his fellow lemmings to stop, think, and turn around.  All in the effort to live simply so that others (human and non-human) may simply live.

I cannot think of a better reason for bucking against the norm.  Can you?


  1. Paul says

    Hi Gavin,
    Fantastic post and blog in general, I think your straightforward way of presenting your story is powerful in itself. Like some of the other ‘replies’ I am making my way through your website and other similar blogs in preperation for my own family doing a ‘Year without Oil’.

    The thought that keeps popping in to my head though is that there while there is some amazing stuff going on (your blog included) it is fragmented and as a result can be sometime written off by the mainstream as just a few isolated actions or ‘do gooders’ . I wonder if by bringing together, linking and celebrating the stories of change, big and small, we can change a lemming standing by himself against the flow into a more visible ‘different flow’.

    Maybe a youtube video can explain this better. I use it when promoting positive mental health in primary schools. It’s called ‘leadership lessons from the dancing guy’ and highlights the need not only to celebrate the lone “nut” (direct quote) doing something great but also those who follow.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Pam Woodgate says

    Hi Gavin,

    This post made me think of an interesting conversation I had with my credit card provider earlier this week.

    I recently paid my credit card in full and the following day I received a phone call from their office asking me if there was anything I needed, because I had an excellent payment history and was a valued customer. The person on the phone sounded so desperate to get me back into debt. They were offering personal loans and asking me to keep them in mind if I ever needed anything.

    These companies make it seem normal to use credit to make major purchases and I can see now how easy it is to fall into the credit trap with companies like this throwing money at you.

    I hapily told the company, thanks but no thanks!

  3. Anonymous says

    I discovered your blog through another blog site that I follow and have subscribed you to my rss feed. We live in Tasmania and inherited 4 acres out in the sticks that we are attempting to turn into an edible food forest using permaculture principals. Its hard as we are both students and we have to juggle money but we bought ourselves a HUGE wood burning stove (Aussie made of course…) with the last of our dwindling cash and it cooks our food…heats our water and gives our home its cosy ambiance. Who needs “stuff”. We can buy clothes from the local thrift shop (usually better made than what you can buy in the shops) and we can reuse, repurpose and recycle most of what we need. When you simplify your life you soon realise what you need and what you don’t. We are incredibly lucky in that we don’t have any debt but living on the breadline doesn’t give us a lot of savings potential and our lusted after wind turbine still seems a far away dream. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of giving us a few dollars in our pockets to salve the carbon tax, if the government gave us the chance to take out interest free loans for the installation of alternative energy sources for personal use? Minimising reliance on mainstream power etc. would minimise some of the day to day living expenses that so many people are struggling to meet, let alone manage these days? Anyway…cheers for a great blog and a great read first thing in the morning over a nice hot cup of tea. We back-to-front lemmings are a growing breed…who knows…one day we might manage to stem the tide? :)

    • says

      Hi Anon, looks like you are on a great journey down there in Tassie. An interest free loan would be a great idea, but I am sure that the government would drop all other incentives such as the solar credits rebate and feed-in tariffs like hotcakes.

      Actually, your comment helped to break my writers block today, and inspired me to write my wise words Wednesday post. Thank you so much for your inspiring words.

      Gav x

  4. says

    Hi Gavin,
    I’m a new reader and have been slowly working my way through your past blogs. You share a potent message and have really encouraged me to lift my game.
    Some days I feel like a hard core eco warrior, other days I feel like I am just as bad as the worst of the consumers. I think Gaia is truly thankful for everything we do to help her but I do feel that we also need to change what is considered normal in order for things to progress. As you say, we follow like lemmings – Bigger, better, more, we need because they have and so on. There is such invisibility too in the whole process of consuming. We know our rubbish goes to the dump but we have only to put it in the bin and it magically disappears. We have no concept of the cost of production either. Buy a knit jumper and throw it when it gets a hole. When we choose to or are forced to knit our own jumper or take our own rubbish to the tip or gods forbid, actually keep it on our own properties, THEN and only then will the lemming rush be halted.

    As for schools educating kids, I think there is some sort of greening (my kids aren’t yet school aged) but I would be very surprised if it goes even close to far enough. Even if they just put some of the environmentally focussed kids tv back on – Smoggies, Wombles (now THEY were well ahead of their time), Captain Planet – then maybe the message might get through a little more.

    • says

      Hi Jessie. Great observation about the magic of our waste stream management. If people had to think a bit harder about their waste disposal, then maybe they wouldn’t consume so much.

      As for school programs, I will ask my daughter, who is a High School teacher. She will know what they are up to. x

  5. says

    Thanks Gavin. I enjoyed reading this and found it beneficial. I shared yesterday video with friends as well as having read the book after it was reviewed by yourself. Cheers, Wendy

  6. says

    Humans are strange, as a whole. We get very swept up in whatever their culture says is “the thing to do” without ever stopping to question the benefits. Things like binge drinking, discrimination, consumption, wastefulness… they’re all so deeply ingrained in some instances that we don’t even realise they’re harmful.

    Sometimes seeing another person choosing a different path is enough to get you thinking about why they are doing it, and push you to think about the way you do things and if perhaps you need to change, however I fear this doesn’t work for the majority of adults. Plus it’s hard to change if you’re in the minority – ever attempted to completely remove plastic from your life? It’s near impossible.

    I think the key is educating our children – but in a specific way that empowers them to continue to do the right thing once they reach an age where they realise that most adults aren’t bothering so why should they? Also I think it’s important for them to learn to properly question everything, because the more mainstream green living becomes, the more you’ll get unscrupulous types trying to make a quick buck.

    I don’t have kids so I don’t know what they teach in school these days – is there more focus on environmental issues? Have you ever considered taking your green message to schools and giving talks?

    • says

      I agree Raevan, kids are the key. It is their future as well after all. I have given some thought of Ben (12) and I giving a green presentation as primary and secondary schools, but your prompt has made me want to investigate further. Thanks x

  7. says

    The lemming metaphor is so very apt. And I think that’s me too “slowly moving away from the edge”.

    Thanks for this one, Gavin – it cheered me up a bit, just when I was getting down on myself about not doing more.

  8. says

    This lemming is waving to you Gavin as she and her family head towards the side instead of over the cliff. We are really knuckling down on the not spending and using up what we have – which I must admit (with an embarrassed grin) is quite a bit. It sure does feel good though.

  9. says

    I must admit to feeling a bit like that on ocassion and feeling a bit guilty when I do spend some money on something which is, in all honesty, a bit of a luxury or a neat toy (despite the justification). In fact that will be the subject of a post in the near future.

    But, like you and many others we know, we are ahead of the pack (or more precisely off to the side walking down the gentle slope rather than plummeting off the cliff) and we should feel proud of our acheivements.

    The good thing is that, every so often, somebody else looks over and says, “Hey, look at those guys over there, that looks like a much better way to go, I’m going to join them!”

    • says

      Hi Mick. Yes I too have felt guilty of late due to the acquisition of an item I thought I would never get (which will be the subject of another post as well).

      We should feel rightly proud of any achievement, no matter how small it may seem at the time. There should be a lot more celebration, instead of beating ourselves up all the time, which I suppose is kind of the point of this post.


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