Running on Wind and Sun

CARSON, NEW MEXICO — When the wind comes up the mesa, which it often does, there is a particular rusted-out old car nearby that whispers the same eerie, long-toned question every time: “Whoooooo?”

I sometimes think: “Us.”

Out in this remote part of the American Southwest lies the closest thing I have seen to an answer to how to actually live sustainably on the planet.

With groundwater too deep for wells, we harvest rain off tin roofs and collect it in cisterns for sparse use all year. With no plumbing, outhouses and even composting toilets or living-machine-style waste recycling systems are the standard. A landscape with a complete absence of power lines means small solar setups, use of solar gain in building design, or just going without. Heat is wood. This year everyone is burning the dead-standing pinyon pine that got hit by a bark beetle infestation.

Many people out here live on what the rest of the country would call literally nothing — some on less than a few hundred dollars a month. At the tiny local store you can buy small bags of the most beautiful tricolored popping corn grown by a woman down the way, or the local furniture maker Robert’s dry-farmed beans. There’s nothing lavish about this life, except the vast beauty of the sky, the fine tracks of kangaroo rats traced in arroyo sand on morning walks, and a secret knowledge that you live the good life. I have often met some of the roughest-looking folks who end up confessing: “Yeah, I’ve been out here twenty-five years, I used to be a CEO, now I haul water and use an outhouse and I couldn’t be happier! If you trade your whole life for money, what do you really have?”

Yesterday, while a neighbor and I spent two hours digging her truck out of the mud, she stopped and commented, “Did you see the sunset last night? The geese should be migrating soon, I can feel it!” The next morning, by god, I heard the first of the honking calls of the geese moving north.

What I mean to say here is: sure, join organizations, shop more consciously at sustainable businesses, use all the right organic body-care products, but none of this is hitting the mark if we want to talk about the real changes Americans need to make in order to continue to exist in the delicate balance of our now threadbare ecosystems. I fear I see a trend that is urging people who care about the fate of life on the planet to transfer their same over-consumptive habits and over-dependence on comfort merely to a “greener” version of the same unsustainable thing.

If the system as we know it collapsed tomorrow, some of us would still be out here, running on wind and sun — rugged, near-moneyless, land- and sky-loving desert dwellers in whose lives I see the possibility of human survival.


  1. Your article was good and your finale paragraph was GREAT – the cold hard fact is that none of this new talk about ‘Green’ is doing anything to change the overal level of energy comsumption in the U.S. or around the world.
    We need to change everything about the way we live – EVERYTHING.
    Good luck and continued good writing. Dan

  2. Nice article, thanks very much. But what about children – it doesn’t sound the kind of place where having children is as relatively easy as the burbs. Schools are one of the first considerations, and then medical facilities. It would be interesting to hear your views on the subject.

  3. Excessive consumption holds hands with capitalism and our current culture. I love how you get underneath and criticize the popular “green” culture that is only redirecting their consumption to products that are a tid-bit better for the biosphere.

    This seems to me another, but yet quietly important part of my justification for simplistic ideals and lifestyles. Thank you for describing yet another step- that I have always believed, but have never seen in an article- in our path to sustainable futures.

  4. I don’t blame the concept of capitalism – I blame the US version that is so focused on consumerism. And our greatest sin is how so many billions of people around the world strive to copy our US way of life.
    Soon India will be putting a million new cars on the road each and every year – and yes they will be cheap little cars that spit carbon monoxide into the air unlike anything the earth can handle. China will do everything it can to match our level consumption in housing, autos, energy and new pairs of shoes.
    My goal is to create a better example of how to live – right here in the US.

  5. Great article…sounds like a little bit of back to the 60’s ….I have 12 acres in western PA…it’s not easy to establixsh a homestead with alternative structures, waste management, no connections to the utioity grid, etc…although all good ideas…but none will pass the building codes….and don’t forget the taxes on the land…have to sustain a decent income to pay those….we’re controlled by the state government and it’s rules and regs…all designed to protect us from ourselves…based on the state’s vision of what society should be…this is what needs changed…but it happens very slowly…unless we’re in a crisis mode….or the people as a whole make drastic changes quickly….we’re heading there…but there’s a lot of forces holding us back…as a planet, I believe we continue to evolve to a higher level….Keep the faith brothers and sisters..

  6. Lovely article. Modern people are always in a hurry, that is why they invent various things for the purpose of saving time. And they do not think about the consequences. They are trying not to be late, for what? For what could one be late? I think, we`d better stop and look around. And maybe the things we will see, are those we have always been dreaming about.

  7. Thanks to author. But to your considiration you have to understand that current style of our living was forming thousands of years. A agree with the fact, that our world is based on “consumerism” and in order to change, you have to change easily whole system of human being. However, nobody says of its imposiibility. Why dont you start from childhood, the phycological principles, “green” directed education in school, college and university and etc.
    For sure, such global changes take many years, but if it goes one step further – it’s still good.
    Good luck, author.

  8. Dan makes a good comment. Going green will take a series of laws to be enacted. The point is we are a capitalist society and we need something in place to make us change. Of course we can still prosper by going green. We just need change

  9. I think all of your comments are great and I would like to take this a step forward: I want to create an owner’s manual for planet earth called ‘The Annual Manual’..
    .. to get it started I would like any and all readers of this to submit one passionate paragraph on a specific topic YOU feel would make for a better society.. a better earth.
    … post it here or send it to me at
    good luck to us all.. dan

  10. You said your were a CEO in other words you worked hard and earned heaps of money before being able to buy your piece of paradise. Or did you inherit. You may be living as cheap as possible but how much money do you have hidden away for a rainy day or did you donate it all to a worthy charity?

  11. What about the children?
    what about home schooling?
    what about home remedies?
    What about allowing our children to learn about life by running free?
    We cant shield our children from everything, we can try.

  12. I too would love to live such a free lifestyle but everyone I met who does has inherited or worked hard for many years. Usually not even considering the environment while they drive cars, go to fancy restaurants and buy everything on the shelves.Its great to change your life but in this world money talks-try living with absolutely no money.

  13. question for sharron…. while the rich do indeed put a great strain on the enviornment they influence all manner of governmental structures and programs – I would like to hear the specific thoughts of a person of modest means. what would you do to provide a good education to children.

  14. Right now I am planning a lesson plan on ecological footprints. Im still a student and yes very modest means.

  15. Perhaps we have to reconsider how many tv’s are necessary for a family. One in every room or one?
    (If any?)

    Even in the smallest space some herbs could be grown and used in cooking.

  16. perhaps the problem isn’t the number of TV’s a family has – or all of the other toys that most American family’s are addicted to.. the problem is how easy it all is to just throw a switch on and sit down and watch the idoit box. In the U.S. we all expect an endless supply of POWER… juice.. electricity for our homes.. gas for our cars… heat in the winter…. air conditioning in the summer.
    What if each person needed to sit down on an exercise bike and charge up a battery that then plugs into the back of the TV – and you only get to watch TV or play video games with power you created.
    then how many of us would find a better way to spend our time.

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