The SNJ’s new columnist Karen Eberhardt-Shelton was born in California but grew up in England.

She now lives in Stroud and is currently working on an education project called Learn, Think, Act and is hoping to develop an eco-community land trust.

Her thought-provoking columns will focus on how we all have to take responsibility for our actions and for our planet.

Physical re-education

A WHILE back I had an interesting chat with the Severn Trent water man who came to read my meter.

I was impressed to find a man doing a humble job like that holding a view of the world similar to mine and pretty much on the same page environmentally.

We even exchanged names. I wished I’d asked if reading meters was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, and why, with his sensible outlook, couldn’t he set up a little business based on ‘fixing things’ instead.

Why couldn’t he gather a couple of like-minded clever blokes and together create a small business based on an ecological repair-recycle-reuse-regenerate, etc. system. Whatever anybody owns that is repairable shouldn’t be thrown away, instead, logically it would be fixed and kept useful.

The way things are now, when something breaks down, we go out and buy a new version.

When a computer is considered out of date, it’s replaced with the latest model. That’s the way with most things in consumer society.

But look ahead, oil will become too scarce for the constant reproduction of replacements. We don’t need more academically-focused brains; we need a big increase in hands-on skills and services.

How wonderful if someone could come to your home to fix the toaster or the fridge, the washing machine, the computer, or whatever, for a normal hourly rate of pay. Entire communities could revolve around locally-based repair and renewal.

Nothing needs to be abandoned to the garage or dumped if enough reasonably intelligent bodies figure out how to provide for local needs, including not just supplies of food and other basics, but essential services that centre around keeping the usual household ‘tools’ in working order for as long as possible.

The current mode of the economic system is to out-source as much work and production to cheap areas of the world, while offering low wages and rudimentary working conditions wherever possible.

But as Matthew Crawford said in his article Physical Re-Education: “You can’t outsource plumbers, electricians and mechanics”.

Princeton economist Alan Blinder stated: “The crucial distinction in the emerging labour market is not the conventional one between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person. You can’t hammer a nail over the internet. Nor can the Indians fix your car -- because they are in India.”

Crawford supports ‘face-to-face interactions between tradespeople and customer. . .”the question of what constitutes a good job looks more open now than it has for a long time”. If that’s really the case, let’s adapt.

As the natural resources used in manufacturing dwindle, those who can work with their hands at a multiplicity of skills will become much in demand, even necessary and fundamental to the everyday workings of society.

The more skilled people there are to fix, alter, adjust and repair, the longer we’ll be able to live in relative comfort on a finite Earth. (And all the landfill sites will be immensely grateful for a reprieve!) Matthew Crawford’s The Case For Working With Your Hands came out in 2010.