Can a Homestead Help Survive Climate Change?
Frankly, I doubt it. But I bought one anyway.
As I have been preparing for retirement, I found myself in the least anticipated place I could imagine — back to homesteading. About thirty years ago, I had a primitive homestead. My wife and I at the time chopped wood, carried water, raised chickens, and grew almost all of our own food. She worked in the town nearby, and I grew things, built things, and wrote things. It was a decent life until circumstances forced a change and a return to the city from whence we both came.
Soon after relocating, I longed to return. But as one year become five years, as friends and family developed in new ways, and as our life grew roots in new places, the dream faded. In fact, the desire faded. I never thought I would be doing this again. Until now.
A couple of months ago, my partner saw a sign along the highway with a cabin for sale. We looked. We fell in love with the place. And I bought a new home. It is small — 550 square feet. It is basic — two tiny bedrooms and a kitchen-living area that reminds you of an efficiency apartment. It’s on 11 wooded acres with a 1/3 acre cleared, which will become garden space.
After we closed, I began to understand just how good an idea it was.
Homestead advantages in a climate-changing world
My first hint was talking with the owner and she was giving me the rundown of the neighbors. An older couple across the road has been living off the grid for decades. The next-door neighbor just purchased their forty acres with a house. Why? “After 22 years of drought in Utah, we’ve had enough.” Then, the 2022 heat wave began, and I was glad to be north. My eleven acres in the north woods were looking good.
As things unfolded, I began to think it through… Yes, in a climate-changing world, this is as good a place as any. Of course, we could still have storms, and being in the forest, fires are always possible. But it is cooler here most of the time, winters are cold but nice, it is still temperate and moist, and there’s water. I like my odds, but after sixty years on the planet, I know nothing is “safe.”
When you connect to a new place, some ideas on what to do come immediately, and some take time to emerge. For me, the garden was obvious. There is only one place to put it — the quarter acre that is cleared and gets sunshine. I’m not a survivalist; I garden because I love fresh food and I enjoy the process. Tilling, sowing, tending, harvesting, storing, composting, and back again. It’s amazing to see how nature works, and it is also amazing to see how this kind of work improves one’s body. When I was a young man, it made me strong as an ox and able to eat like a horse. As an older man, it’s only been a couple of weeks but I can already feel the pain an older body feels. I’m still hoping it turns into that same young man’s fitness.
Homesteading is a good idea, but…
Homesteading has many benefits, but it doesn’t offer any guarantee against climate change. We can have a drought or an unseasonable freeze just like anyone else. As I said, fires and storms remain very possible and can be very destructive. I am not homesteading to safeguard against these things. Events will happen as they may, and I have no insight as to which places will be spared or destroyed.
Some homesteaders are going to the land as part of their personal responsibility for climate change. Urban or rural, it is thought to be a low-carbon lifestyle that fits with degrowth philosophies, transition, and other ideas people can use to reduce their carbon contribution. Not bad if you want to do that, but that’s not my reason. Getting everyone to become self-sufficient at homesteading, producing their own, and consuming far less won’t happen because a lot of people simply don’t want to live that way. Plus, I am keenly aware that rural homesteading does not necessarily mean a lower carbon footprint. You still need to heat the home, use electricity, and drive. Because you are rural, driving distances expand when you need to get something done, receive deliveries, or go to see friends. There are no mass transit alternatives.
Homesteading may, however, provide resilience against some of the macro forces being unleashed which have their origins in climate change and the system that produces it. Growing your own food, for example, can provide resilience when the food system goes through short-term convulsions leading to lower supply. Changes in climate contribute to food shortages and inflation in food prices. By producing my own food, I am partially insulated against those extra costs, and it also provides small protection against supply hiccups like those we experienced during the pandemic. If the shelves go empty, I can have food from the garden, or eventually from my own storage.
Self-sufficiency on a homestead also provides resilience against rising fuel costs and other inputs or supplies. Eleven acres of forest allow me to cut my firewood, for example, thereby offering insulation from LP gas cost increases. I can also store key supplies for shop, repair, and gardening efforts, thereby eliminating drives to town and saving on gas. These benefits provide me with a little more wiggle room than my non-homestead counterparts, but even a widespread program of this is not a solution to climate change.
Making a homestead reduce carbon
If you do homestead and you want to use it to lower your carbon footprint and make a personal contribution to solving climate change, there are some things you can do — namely, electrify and renew. These are not unique to homesteading — anyone can and should do them. Try to convert as many of your household systems to electric, then get that energy from wind, solar, or hydro. Burning is what causes climate change, but when you electrify, you get the chance to eliminate burning from your energy sources. Even the iconic wood-burning stove of the northern latitudes burns wood and still generates carbon. When you replace burning appliances like furnaces and stoves with non-burning appliances like heat pumps and electric stoves, you allow yourself to source your electricity without any burning at all. The same is true for electric vehicles.
The benefits of electrifying, however, only accrue to those who source their energy through renewable programs like solar or wind gardens, or through their own solar power system. In most cases, the best step for climate change and your pocketbook will be to install your own rooftop or ground mount solar power system. If you haven’t gone to an electric vehicle yet, make sure the system is expandable so it can handle the extra draw when you need it.
In these ways, your homestead dream can also serve to shrink your carbon footprint. It can provide you with some resilience, too. But the real reason to buy and create a homestead is that you love it. If you do, more power to you. Enjoy!
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