Thursday, March 25, 2010

The estate of me


Ashby Sunrise by Pants



Australians have the biggest houses in the world. I'm no exception. Seat of Pants comprises four bedrooms, two bathrooms, two sitting rooms, a balcony and a sundeck that is bigger than Old Trafford. I didn't aspire to that. It was the view I was after. I had no specification for the house itself, just its vista.

Choosing a house from existing stock within a strict budget is like purchasing something from a second-hand shop. You don't get to say, can I see this in a size smaller please. I'm no Ben Bernanke but even I know that real estate is a good place to put your money while the world economy is executing a nosedive, unless of course that property is in Reykjavik.

Someone is always telling us that we need to live in smaller houses and much closer together. Well, obviously we have so little space here. Really, it's daft isn't it? It's just that we have to be seen to be going along with the new global austerity, regardless of its relevance. If they want us to live in smaller houses, they should build them smaller.

Last year, if you'll remember, I moaned bitterly about the idiot 'sustainability' modules they made us do in my art course. We had to fill in a survey containing loads of questions about the size and quantity of our living accoutrements but not a single one about their use. For example, I have a large garbage bin because it is the one the council provided. However, I only put it out about once every two months and then it only ever has one small bag of non-organic, non-recyclable waste in it. Someone, no several people, who are in charge and have control of information, actually think there is a correlation between a container that is given to you without consultation and your behaviour towards the environment. Now that I find scary.

But this is the 'logic' that governs all thinking on how so-called 'sustainability' is measured. By the survey above, I turn out to have a carbon footprint bigger than a brown coal-fired yeti's. Now, if someone had bothered to ask me about my energy usage rather than simply conducting a white goods count, they would have discovered that I am a direct descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to paying for something that is free provided you're in tune with its cycles, i.e. light. My preferred heat source is two duvets and my fridge is one step up from a hotel minibar. I do have and use a dishwasher. It goes on twice a week. I believe the theory that it is more energy-efficient to use a dishwasher as long as you only put it on when it is full. It certainly saves on my energy and, if we're going to operate at this level of macro-silliness, then I'm going to factor that in.

People gasp when I tell them that I burn wood in mid-winter. If I still lived in London, it would be a very bad thing to do and, in fact, illegal. However, I now live in a forestry area out in the countryside where there is no smog. The people who bring the wood are very nice semi-retired men who gather it under permit. It is timber that is environmentally unproductive. It can either rot on the ground or contribute to a forest fire or I can burn it in my highly effective slow-combustion wood heater which heats the whole house. The carbon equation is the same. Folks get a bit panicky when it comes to trees but they're an easily renewable energy source in the right context.

No doubt I'll downsize further down the line of necessity and maybe there'll come a time when I feel like cosying up to humanity again. I might move to the cheek-by-jowl latte belt one day but I won't be under any delusion that I am somehow contributing to the salvation of the planet by reducing my bookshelf space.

On the other hand, if I was the type that swallowed this rubbish I might be tempted to invest in micro real estate. You can buy an inch of Detroit for US$1 from Makeloveland. Doesn't seem so great to me. For a dollar I'd expect at least a tenement in the motor city and possibly a Cadillac. If it was Reykjavik, I'd want a square mile and a large G&T, no ice.