The other day within my post about My Consumerism Meltdown (But I Got Better), I whinged and moaned about the new shopping facility that has been added on to our existing shopping centre. The entire place has been revamped for a “2013 look and feel”.
All well and good, everyone is entitled to a rant now and then, but did I once offer up a viable solution besides farmers and craft markets? No, and I should have. Upon reading it again, it sound like one big torrent of words, with no purpose except to vent my emotional state at the time.
So what would a sustainable, ethical and green shopping centre look like? Funnily enough, my friend Jabir and I talked about this very concept a few days later. We had a good laugh as we went along talking about green roofs and solar power, but I want to take it one step further.
I want to take you to around the time of my 65th birthday, sixteen years into the future, just like I did when I wrote the short story Transition Dreams. Lets continue the story, shall we?
June, 2029. Somewhere in Victoria
“Are you sure you want to ride all that way dear?”
Kim was concerned that I had to peddle over 15 km to get to the shops. She was after a replacement hand mixer and grinder that I just couldn’t fix. Besides, I wanted to get my radio fixed so as to listen to the local radio station that still managed to stay on air. Sometimes I think they must broadcast using AA cells and used chewing gum, but hey, who is complaining. It’s nice to hear music and a bit of local news occasionally. We can spare the juice.
Our nearest fix-it man is located at our recently reconstructed main street, which replaced all the shops at the old vacant shopping mall. The flash looking mall that was refurbished in 2013 soon fell into disrepair after the second Global Financial Crisis. No one could afford the rent, let alone that stuff that they used to stock. People didn’t want stuff that broke within six months. They now wanted stuff that lasts.
Ben piped up from the garden. “I’ll go with you old man. I need a break from the food farm. Besides, it is not as safe out there as it used to be”.
“Sure mate. Happy to have you along”.
“Dad, why did people get sucked into the consumer culture in the first place?”
I loved Ben’s questions. Our road trips were always good for a chat. Ben was approaching his 30th birthday in a few months, and he had learnt so much in the last few years. He and Kylie must be thinking about having kids soon, now that the area is relatively safe, and that we had a strong local community.
“Well Son ….” I reflected as we rode along, towing the bike trailer behind us. “People got sold a lie”.
“What do you mean, a lie?”
“Well, in the end everything was a lie”, I said.
“That doesn’t answer my question old man”.
“Okay, okay. Let me put it this way. People were sold the lie of growth. Infinite growth on a finite planet.”
“That is just stupid! Were they crazy or something?”
“No Son. More like brainwashed. Brainwashed by advertising. Brainwashed by the media, and lied to by corporations and governments who were the power brokers of the time. Then the shit hit the fan.”
“Why didn’t they realise where we were heading?” asked Ben.
“It wasn’t in their self-interest to wake up from the Matrix. Why change when they were living in the most affluent and energy abundant period in human history.” I said.
“That all changed pretty quickly, didn’t it Dad?”
“Well mate, you lived it as well as I did. What do you think?”
“I remember that stuff started to change. Goods got scarce, and international trade all but dried up. But we did okay, didn’t we?”
“Yes Ben, we did. We were prepared. Your old man didn’t look so crazy then, did he.”
“You were never crazy Dad. Just different!”
It took about forty five minutes to ride to the shops, but it didn’t seem that long. Probably because the ride was blurred by the interesting conversation along the way. There was no trouble to be seen.
The old mall had long been stripped of usable materials. There was no use keeping the interior shops functioning because it was just a concrete box. No natural light to speak of and no airflow. In summer it was hot as hell and freezing in winter. Electricity was just too expensive to waste on heating such an unyielding expanse that was the badly designed mall.
People got clever and begun to reuse materials to create new, more practical stores. With few cars on the thoroughfares that were once smooth roads, the more industrious and entrepreneurial merchants took over the car parks, ripped up the asphalt, and built structures based on the Earthship model. Pioneered all those years ago by Mike Reynolds, this architectures became the norm for new buildings everywhere. Many thought Mike was crazy as well.
The Earthship stores were self-contained, including living quarters for the merchant’s family. Built with old tyres, discarded plastic bottles, and aluminium cans, these materials were incorporated into the fabric of the building. There was very little waste. In fact, many of these items were sourced from all around our town, making the surrounds much cleaner and pleasant.
The design is such that the building stays cool in the ever increasing heat of summer, and warm and cosy during our milder winters. A few solar panels keep the electricity on, mainly scrounged from road warning signs along with their batteries. It was repurposing at its best, especially seeing that the roads were nearly unusable anyway.
Most buildings had room for a veggie garden inside, kept alive with the grey water from the home. This provided the occupants with a small supply of food in a controlled climate, which is most welcomed. Some shops even have a green roof, which filters the rainwater that collects in large tanks. Like I mentioned, these shops were pretty self-contained. Why these types of building were not the norm back in the days before the great disruption has got me stumped. It seems so logical now, but I suppose logic and common sense were rare commodities back then.
“Do you think you can fix it?” I asked.
“Dunno, but I will try.” said Barry. Barry was a master of his craft. He used to be a TV repairman back before the crash and he could fix most electronic devices by sourcing parts from trash. He had an abundant source of parts left over from the consumer culture. His skills were in high demand because electronic equipment was prone to breaking due to the use of home built power supplies, and variable voltages produced by the old inverters.
Gone were the days where you could pop down the entertainment store and pick up a new flat screen TV. Not that anyone could afford the price nor the electricity from their batteries. Also, people had better things to do with their time, because just about everyone is now a producer. Folks don’t have time to sit and veg in front of the idiot box. Besides, broadcasts are sporadic at best, as it take a heck of a lot of electricity to run a TV station.
Once the huge container ships stopped, Aussies soon found that no one manufactured the electronic stuff in this country, so they had to go without if stuff broke. Radios, however, were still well used as were iPods and smaller tablet devices (as long as the batteries were still in good condition). Usually turned on sparingly to conserve the precious batteries and only used for music at special occasions more than anything else. Heck, we weren’t in the Stone Age, were we! Even one shop in the new main street charged and refurbished batteries for those who had limited or no solar or wind power at home. Quite an ingenious service that was born out of necessity.
Ben and I left the radio with Barry who said that it should be fixed within a week or two. We headed off hoping to find a replacement mixer and grinder at one of the other shops on the strip.
“Look Dad, apples!”
“Where did they come from?” I asked the rugged looking stallholder who had set up a temporary premises between two of the earthship stores.
“Got ’em from Tassie mate.” said the stallholder.
Lots of growers were kicking themselves back in the early days, having bulldozed thousands of fruit trees just before long distance trade slowed down to a crawl. They quickly replanted, as Tasmania and a few highland areas were the only places left with a winter cold enough to grow this precious fruit.
“People are gettin’ clever.” said the stallholder. “Sailing boats are making the crossing at least weekly, trading for wheat and grains. They only last a few months without refrigeration, so get ’em quick.” he said.
“What do you want for them?” asked Ben
“Wacha got?” he said gruffly.
“Wheat beer!” said Ben. “I will give you six bottles for 5 kilos of your best apples.”
“Done.”, said the stallholder.
As we walked away, Ben said, “Kylie will love these beauties. She makes the best apple and rhubarb pies ever!”
“I know Son. Quite the homemaker is your Kylie. Kim has taught her well over the last few years. I can taste it now just thinking of it.”, I said. “I believe that your Mum still has some flour left over from that run we did in May, so you won’t have to grind some grain.”
We walked along the line of shops, looking at all the fruit and nut trees that had been planted. Some genius had managed to run a backhoe long enough to rip up slabs of asphalt so as to expose good soil for planting. The local merchants and their families quickly put in a small food forest, which grew well from all the car park run-off.
There were fifteen shops along the strip, ranging from Barry’s Fix-it Store, to a greengrocer, butchers, all the way to the town blacksmith. Well, not really a blacksmith, but the next best thing. John was one of those guys who could make anything out of metal. Once supplies of bottled gas ran out, he had to relearn the old ways of working metal.
As we walked into his workshop, John looked up and greeted us with a smile.
“What’s up Gav? Broken another shovel in the veggie patch, have you?”
“No mate. You know I take good care of my tools”, I said.
“Just pulling ya leg Gav.” said John.
Ben interrupted the banter politely. “John, do you think you can fix this hand mixer and grinder for my mum?”
“‘course I can. In fact, why don’t you swap it for that refurbished one over there? Throw in a kilo of those apples and we will call it even. What do ya say?”
“Sounds like a deal, my old friend.” I said.
“Pleasure doing business with you fellas.” John said with a wink.
“Likewise mate.” I said as we walked out of the workshop with an almost-brand-new utensil. I knew that we got the better end of the bargain. John was such a kind soul, salt of the earth. Besides, neither Ben nor I knew how to fix the old one, and those apples were cheap. Wheat beer was easy to make and the ingredients were readily available in our area.
“Mission accomplished!” I stated. “Time to go home Son.”
“Just one more stop Dad. I have to get some grain to make more beer.”
“Alright then. Make it snappy.”
Whilst waiting, I struck up a conversation with Sarah, the local seamstress. Since cloth started appearing in markets again in bulk due to some enterprising textile factories up north, she was run off her feet. Someone had to make and mend clothes now that the sweatshops of Asia were long gone.
“How’s business Sarah?” I said.
“Never been better Gav. People just forgot how to make and mend clothes.” she said. “It was a dying trade due to globalisation. I even run workshops to teach people how to repair clothes themselves because I just can’t keep up with demand for my services. This way I can swap services for all my food and the odd silver coin.” she added.
“Well done Sarah. We sure would be lost around here without you. Praise where praise is due.” I said.
“Come on Dad!” yelled Ben from where our bikes were parked.
“See you next week Sarah.”
“See you Gav. See ya Ben.”, said Sarah as she waved us both goodbye.
With the hand mixer and grinder, apples, and two sacks of wheat all loaded, we headed off for home.
“Have fun, Son?” I asked as I struggled with my turn towing the trailer.
“Yes Dad. Very pleasurable and it was great to catch up with everyone.” he said. “Was it like this before? You know, when the mall was open?”
“Heck no. You would be lucky to talk to anyone if you went shopping. It was so impersonal that they even replaced the checkout chicks with mindless checkout robots at the end. People just didn’t like it.”, I said.
“That must have been a very sad and lonely place to shop.” said Ben.
“It was. I like it much better now. Far more personal, even though things are tougher to get hold of. But then again, people don’t need or want half the crap they used to.” I said.
“Too true. What did people used to do with all that stuff?” asked Ben.
“Not a lot mate.” I said. “Hoarding and collecting trinkets mostly, nothing really useful. My favourite quote of the time was that we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like. That kind of sums it up.”, I added.
As I swerved to miss a large pothole, Ben said, “It must have been torture for you Dad, seeing people waste so much.”
“It was Son. It was.”
Love the story, Gavin – great glimpse into a possible future. But “checkout chicks”?????
Gavin Webber says
Hi Dawn. Thanks for the feedback. A checkout chick is Aussie slang for a store attendant who works the cash register.
Lynda D says
Does Ben know that he is going to be married to a “Kylie”? Great story Gav. Looking very much like a favorite childhood series – “The Waltons”. Good Night Gav (LOL) or are you too young for this memory. My son keeps asking me who John-Boy and Mary-Anne are. I remember the general store they use to go to.
Gavin Webber says
Hi Lynda. Yes, we joke about it often. No pressure on the lad though. He is only 14.
I do remember “The Waltons” well. Kim has the entire series on DVD. Great story.
Lynda D says
Wow, i never thought it would have been remade onto DVD. Id love to see it again. Not long ago i hired and watched the entire Little House on the Prairie. The simple life with good family values. Now they knew how to work hard.
Gavin Webber says
I am sure if you ask Kim, she will lend it to you!
Oh my giddy aunt, Gavin I’ve just walked in the door after this morning’s ACLW seminar and clicked on your blog to look the link to your cheese pages for one of the attendees and found this, read it and wow! I just had to let you know. It’s exactly what we covered this morning – how to survive the coming economic and environment collapses with grace,sustainability and the resources we have at hand. I’m almost, just almost, speechless. Lovely story, and beautiful relationship between father and son.
Gavin Webber says
Thanks Cath. I wanted to show that there was a better way than we currently have. Feel free to share with the seminar attendees!
Oh, and Ben is like that in real life
Now there’s a story that has a bit of hope in it ! Very good , Gavin.
Gavin Webber says
Your last story repeats over and over in my mind. It struck quite a chord. This one just added to that chord. I eagerly await the next installment.
The only thing that puzzles me is how wheat got to be cheap given that it’s a very fossil fuel intensive crop these days. 😉
Gavin Webber says
Cheers Jessie. It was one of those stories that kept playing over and over in my mind, so I just had to write it down. I think it was my interview with Jennifer Richards that gave me the inspiration to think a little outside the square.
As for the wheat. I figure that there are going to be lots of people without jobs, so there will be plenty of people that gravitate towards farming or working on farms as happened in Cuba during their special period. As wheat is a staple for many, and with our climate growing hotter, I thought it may be quite cheap to produce. I may be wrong, but hey, that is what stories are for. To experiment with visions of things yet to happen.
I like the thinking. And you’re right about the unemployment making eople give things a go.
Wheat is rather labour intensive but even in pre industrial England it was grown in large enough quantities from what I understand. And there are plenty of farms where you see old ploughs and such left lying around or *shudder* decorated with petunias so I guess the means is there.
I love reading these sorts of stories as they do make us think, in side, outside and all around the square. Our ability to dream and imagine and think like that is going to be the saving grace of mankind I think. As you say, look to Cuba. 🙂
And you’ve inspired me to get writing too. 12,330 words and steaming along nicely. 🙂
Gavin Webber says
I would love to have a read Jessie when you are finished.
Great story. Like always some things resonate and some things not so much but I agree with the overall theme.
Love the new(?) web design BTW
It’s interesting that the many of the people I meet here in Timor Leste are trying to help the Timorese become more self sufficient by promoting local business, improved farming practices and return to traditional foods.
Maybe they should come back to Australia with me in a few weeks and start teaching us the same things 🙂
Gavin Webber says
Hey Mick. Cheers mate. I would love to hear about your Timor Leste experiences in the whole context of sustainable living. Would you be up for a skype chat for the TGOG podcast? I think many listeners/readers would be very interested.
We could give a go while I’m over here but the connection can be a bit hit or miss. I’m flying home on 20th Dec (I know, but I did buy carbon offsets for the flights – they’re so cheap everyone should do this) so we could have a chat just before or after Christmas day If you like. Let me know on FB or email.
Cherie Hall says
Love it Gav!! I’d love to live that way 🙂
Except then we wouldn’t be able to read your blogs :/
Gavin Webber says
Hi Cherie. True, not enough electricity for the interwebs, but I suppose it wouldn’t really matter because then everyone would live the same (maybe).