10 11 2005

Type into your web browser, and you get a luminously green page that advertises, “Sustainable Solar-Dynamic Bio-Benign Design: /Offering Better Ways to Live, at Less Cost /Today and Tomorrow, Anywhere on Earth.” When you read through the web site, you find a wealth of practical, down-to-earth, thoroughly doable advice on small-scale agriculture, wastewater treatment, and energy-conservative design that does not sacrifice comfort and grace.

If America had really made energy conservation “the moral equivalent of war,” as Jimmy Carter counseled us, the government would have been doing everything it could to foster places like Solviva not just all over America, but all over the world. Instead, government after government in this country, at both national and local levels, has opted for more of the same old dysfunctional same old: long supply lines, the squandering of local agricultural resources, and continued dependence on the availability of affordable oil.

Still, there are bright lights in the world like Solviva, I thought, and so I arranged to interview Solviva’s founder, Anna Edey, for what I expected would be an upbeat story about one of the successes of the environmental movement. Instead, I found myself talking with a profoundly discouraged woman. “Everybody says what I”m doing is wonderful and they really admire me,” she told me, “but nobody is willing to step up and do what I’m doing.” She was unable to find a competent manager for her commercial greenhouse, and it when it deteriorated to the point that it no longer worked as a food production facility, she put it on the market; but the only buyer she could find was someone who just wanted the site—who tore down the greenhouse and put up a profoundly energy-hungry home instead–”big windows facing north,” Anna said.

The island of Martha’s Vineyard, where Solviva is located, had not taken Anna’s advice about ecological design and had embarked on many costly “improvements” that were polluting the island’s limited fresh water supply and driving up the need for heating oil on the island—and, of course, driving up the taxes of the limited number of residents, making it less and less possible for someone who is not an active and successful player of the money game to live there—and, while Anna demonstrated with her greenhouse that it is possible to earn big money with her ideas, they are not fundamentally about making money, but about getting outside the money system.

Her book, in spite of nationwide publicity and rave reviews from Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News, has sold less than ten thousand copies. You can order it online at her website,

Anna expressed her concern to me about the inertia she had witnessed: “People know what we need to do in order to make the change, but it seems like they just won’t do it.. I find myself wondering if, as a species, we’ve lost our will to survive and will be going extinct. Will our children’s children be able to have and raise children?”

I wish I had some overwhelming proof I could present her that would give her hope in this weary world, but I confess I share the same forebodings. No one can tell the future. All I know is, I want to work as hard as I can to create a world in which my worst nightmares are only dimly remembered dreams, a world of sufficiency and sustainability and justice and love and respect. Isn’t that what you want, too? Is that too much to ask for?



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