Monday, December 20, 2010

Borrowing and Sharing

In yesterday's post I wrote about studies of happiness that show people tend to define what they need to be happy in relation to what they see around them and discussed how this can lead to escalating consumption and escalating environmental impacts. The more stuff in a community, the more people feel the need for more stuff, or so the logic of this feedback loop goes.

But in real systems no feedback loop exists in isolation. Today scanning through my Cobb Hill community emails, I was struck by the evidence for the exact opposite process, at least in our little community of 23 families, where borrowing, lending, and sharing often saves us from needing more stuff of our own.

Here, from the emails over the weekend is a sampling of the evidence:

  • I’m looking for a small piece of wire mesh, about 5x5” – could be a scrap of window screen or something heavier.
  • Does anyone at Cobb Hill have a soldering iron suitable for electronics, that I could borrow for a few days?A short length of flux-cored solder would also be helpful.
  • Does anyone at Cobb Hill have a socket set with 1/4-inch drive or similar, with sockets going from about 3/16 to 7/16 inch, and from 4 to 10 mm, that I could borrow for a few days? It doesn't have to have a rachet, a driver will do just as well.
  • Anyone have a bulb for a mudroom florescent light they would lend us until we can get a new one? 2 tubes, four prongs. Your neighbors in the dark.

On top of the borrowing and lending there are four or five emails about activities this week that require no (or hardly any) consumption, from gingerbread house building for kids, to a weekly photography class for teenagers, to Christmas morning waffles in the common house.

All sorts of new habits are needed to move from a world where more abundance around us leads us to us want more and more material goods of our own to a world where more abundance around us means we can be happy with less of our own.

From learning to ask for help to remembering to return things in cleaner, better shape than we received them, none of this seems to be second nature for folks raised in modern industrialized societies. But, ten years into the experiment of Cobb Hill, informal trades and sharing seem to work much more often than they fail. And from simple community email lists to websites specializing in car sharing or barter, new twists on the kind of sharing our grandparents took for granted offer one of the lowest cost, most efficient solutions to the sustainability challenge.

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