Wetter get a bucket

c: | f: /

What links the weather, hose pipe bans, the stock market, children, and the environment. Why, housing. Probably.

For the first time in years we’ve had a proper April. After an amazing March, pretty much every day this month has been textbook, with sun and heavy showers. The garden is thriving and we’ve run out of receptacles to catch the rainwater in.

Yet the water companies have issued a hosepipe ban and have said something to the effect of we need torrential rain every day for the next six months to bring water levels up enough to lift the ban.

They’re citing two relatively dry consecutive winters as the reason. That’s certainly a contributing factor, but I can’t help thinking there’s something else going on in this country.

In the main stream

The press have, predictably, latched onto the fact that privatised water companies still make billions of pounds of profit every year to appease shareholders. That’s something that affects thousands of companies and I won’t go into the reasons why the stock exchange is the single biggest evil in a so-called free market. But any way you slice it, the stock market doesn’t cause drought.

Sensationalist, slavish journalism also waxes lyrical about the billions of gallons of water each year that leak out of 100-year-old pipes and are too costly to fix, compared with bringing in an unenforceable hosepipe ban (unless you dob in a neighbour to the authorities, which seems to be the growing trend these days instead of having a quiet word in private). Again, while the water leaks away and it’s an utter waste of energy to have processed it in the first place, where does it leak to? The ground, whereby it is reclaimed by nature. On the ecological stage: no problem.

From my GCSE geography days we learned about the water cycle. Rain falls, runs down mountains, collects in reservoirs, is siphoned off and used by mankind, the rest makes its way to the sea, evaporates, forms clouds, and rains ad infinitum.

There’s roughly the same amount of water on the planet now as there was when the oceans formed. If there’s a supply issue, we need to look deeper into each water cycle building block and find out what’s going on.

Water load of stats

The climate change stalwarts of course spout global warming, but there’s enough data now to ignore such gibberish. Global warming is like the “5-a-day” mantra: both invented to make corporations money.

Cloud formation hasn’t changed significantly in the last millennia. The seas are the same, rainfall is pretty constant in England. The temperature and average sunshine hours are up a bit, which one might attribute to some losses, but the fact rainfall is constant negates this argument.

Reservoirs haven’t been filled or converted into Starbucks this year. So what’s left?

Humanity.

The planet in peril

Seasonal variation is indeed a natural phenomenon and sometimes we do have comparative dry spells for many years, which causes long-term drought conditions. But when every other variable is near constant, something we’re doing must be having an effect.

Possible candidates include:

  • Allowing conventional building on flood plains or areas of sensitive natural habitat (I’m looking at you, Cameron).
  • Dumping impermeable rubbish such as plastics in the ground which soak up or prevent rainwater from filtering to the water table and aquifers below (I’m looking at you, corporations and specifically the building trade, which accounts for some 25% of landfill).
  • Technological “improvements” in water heating systems which still require water to run for long spells before warming, creating additonal demand on the water supply.
  • More general, widespread water demand due to overpopulation, or rather — given that the birth rate is declining — the longevity of the human species compared with just a few decades ago.

Thus, while the resources remain constant, we’re placing higher strains on the Earth, and mother nature is fighting back. It’s like everything: balance is key. I’ve managed to keep my water bill pretty much static — effectively negating inflationary rises — for the past decade by making incremental improvements to the way we manage, consume and use water. In order of preference I also reuse, recycle or, better still, don’t use something in the first place to try and limit landfill.

Yet I am but one man, and the problems above are social challenges. Until we slow down consumerism, the greedy corporations grow a conscience and stop over-packaging / over-producing / selling off overstock at knock-down prices, the changes I make are eclipsed by societal ills at large.

What’s that building over the hill

As an example, paying someone to build my house for me out of refired brick and lumber — a house that by all accounts will only last a few decades — is something legislation has forced upon us, borne out of greed and control. Sure, we could spout safety and all manner of legislative reasons for bringing in professionals to do the job for us, but any housing architect can draw up plans for a safe building such that other, non-skilled people can follow.

Imagine if we lived in a society that permitted us to build our own homes with ease, subject to a quick check to make sure it won’t fall down the first winter. Think of how little waste there would be.

Instead of owing quarter of a million to the bank, we could build a house for a few thousand pounds and some willing help from family, friends and said architect. Then we wouldn’t need to work to pay the mortgage, because we wouldn’t have one. Wouldn’t drive to work because there was little need, reducing carbon emissions. Wouldn’t feel the need to go on jet-setting holidays because our restored life-work balance would mean we wouldn’t be compelled to swap our wages for two weeks of rest from the fifty weeks of toil. Less time working leaves more time being able to grow things and enjoy life.

Sure the banks would feel the pinch, but they’re all evil anyway. Consumerism would still be intact, but our link with nature would be one step closer to being able to support the growing population. One simple alteration in legislation is all it would take to start a snowball of change for the better.

The housing unicorn

Will it ever happen? It depends on pressure. All the while the corporations answer to the shareholders and we’re all slaves to the idea of fiscal currency and “the property ladder” then there’s no incentive. Perhaps when sliced this way, the stock market does help create drought!

One thing’s for sure, moaning about the weather and not being able to wash your car with a hose pipe isn’t going to change things. Nor will reading The Daily Mail. Embarking on any of the following topics will:

  • educate the future industry CEOs — the kids of today — on how important it is to make exactly the right amount of stuff in a sustainable manner without packaging things in triplicate.
  • don’t leave the education of your children solely to the State. Get involved; go on outings to the woods; do stuff; build stuff; grow stuff; show them life skills, not just classroom skills. Earth cannot support the projected 10 billion people without some radical rethinking.
  • call for change in housing and planning law will to permit responsible building on a local level without central control and legislature. At the same time just go out there and do it yourself anyway. Repeatedly bend the ear of a sympathetic local councillor and convince them you have the skillset to do it. Show them plans, get them involved, make them see it’s more ecologically sound and better than forty diggers and fifteen metric tonnes of broken gypsum, tiles, sawn off wood and other landfill detritus. They’re under such pressure to demonstrate environmental progress that it’s quite likely to work in your favour as long as you can convince them it’s safe and well planned.

I’m quite sure those are the biggest barriers to the future of our civilisation. Throw in community control of the money supply and we’re pretty much there.

First chance I get I’m going to experiment with building and work up to designing a home. Then all I need is an architect friend who understands stresses and the mechanics stuff I never listend to at Uni, and some balls to lobby a council representative until they give in and let me build it our way without all the middlemen. Choose the right location and you might get water on tap too.

If you are even remotely interested in helping shape the planet for yourself and future generations, or just want to be inspired, then give The Hand-Sculpted House a read. Behind the apparent hippie, tree-hugging symbolism is some sage advice on the benefits of building a family home by hand. With the right people behind you there’s no reason the revolution can’t begin in your hands and we won’t have to complain about the water supply as much again.

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