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Depletion & Abundance: Life on the New Home Front

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Protecting present and future generations in times of crisis. Climate change, peak oil and economic instability aren't just future social problems-they jeopardize our homes and families right now. Our once-abundant food supply is being threatened by toxic chemical agriculture, rising food prices and crop shortages brought on by climate change. Funding for education and health care is strained to the limit, and safe and affordable housing is disappearing. Depletion and Abundance explains how we are living beyond our means with or without a peak oil/climate change crisis and that, either way, we must learn to place our families and local communities at the center of our thinking once again. The author presents strategies to create stronger homes, better health and a richer family life and to Most importantly, readers will discover that depletion can lead to abundance, and the anxiety of these uncertain times can be turned into a gift of hope and action. An unusual family perspective on the topic, this book will appeal to all those interested in securing a future for their children and grandchildren.

288 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2008

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About the author

Sharon Astyk

5 books46 followers
Sharon Astyk is a writer, teacher, blogger, and farmer who raises vegetables, poultry and dairy goats with her family in upstate New York. She and her family use 80% less energy and resources than the average American household. Sharon is a member of the Board of Directors of ASPO-USA and the award-winning author of three previous books including Depletion and Abundance and Independence Days.

from http://www.newsociety.com/Contributor...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 67 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
September 28, 2018
Brwwrghwha . What to say, where to begin? One of Astyk's ideas here is of the Home Front in war, and to play with the image a little I had the feeling that she was spreading her resources so thinly on so many different fronts that she doesn't really achieve a breakthrough let alone conclusive victory on any of them. A personal problem is that a book like this tempts my mind to lope over the landscape like a polar bear in search of snow and ice. So let me try and grab some berries and boil them down a bit.

The guiding spirit I felt behind this book was not Erasmus of Rotterdam but Friedrich Schiller, not homo ludens but Joan of Arc, the girl from the countryside who will rally the French to drive out the Capitalist English and reassert a joyful self-reliant Jeffersonian Democracy in which (for once) there will be peace, equality, justice and sauerkraut for all: "Der Mensch braucht wenig, und an Leben reich ist die Natur"

One reviewer I noticed called the book 'girly' and in the context of public discourse involving women I assume this was intended as derogatory and dismissive. Yet I think part of Astyk argument is to say that Kinder, Küche, Kirche are the unmeasured part of the iceberg below the waterline (or who cooked Adam Smith's dinner as some have asked, an informal economy upon which a shrinking formal economy rests and equally upon which many a ship of state or political thought is ripping itself open upon. Community, how we feed ourselves, how we continue our civilisation (and what values we perpetuate) are the centre of her argument. If these have been 'relegated' to an 'inferior' female realm, then that is part of the failure in thinking and action that has brought us to our present predicament, implicitly she argues we need to have stereotypically housewifely concerns at the centre of our thought - how do we house, feed and clothe our nearest and dearest in sickness and in health through an uncertain and changing environment. Also these are areas of our lives over which we can make a measurable impact. Her starting point as one may well have observed is that politicians tend not even to acknowledge that there is a problem, or that it is urgent. And if we can't wait for high level political actors to gallop in and rescue us from potential insecurities in energy supply or to guarantee potable water or food supplies, then we are going to have to take matters into our own hands. Admittedly this is an American book, written for an American audience, published in 2008 with hurricane Katrina very much in mind. A shrinking agricultural base, or sever water pollution may not be facts of life in every wealthy country.

The central assumption of Astyk's book is that the future in the rich world will be more precarious and uncertain, not the world of Mad Max, but unpleasant to the point that we will have to make trade offs between undesirable alternatives - food or lighting for example.

Her answer is to 'go home, and stay there' or radical frugality. The wealth of the rich world she tells us comes from the exploitation of the poor, particularly of the global south. It is not only unjust, but unsustainable, nor can we rely on technical solutions partly because such ones as are currently available are energy intensive to produce and require long and complex supply chains and as such are intrinsically vulnerable. The only reliable technologies, she feels are those which are cheap, and can be repaired or replaced locally . In brief what she is suggesting is that the future will be rather like the eras of our great-parents childhoods in terms of the technologies that we will be able to sustain into the future.

I suppose a weak point of the book is that it isn't a how-to book, there is a bibliography and a few general pointers but purely with this book in your right hand and a spade in your left (or vice versa) you won't get very far (partly because reading and digging aren't natural bedfellows). From my own point of view I am weary of backwards looking visions because that is where we came from and where we came from leads to here, purely turning the clock back leads I suspect to Groundhog Day, the past wasn't stable or sustainable, it was dynamic, afterall it produced the present, it also wasn't always particularly nice - can we have the baby without the bath water? Can we sustain the technology of the 1830s or 1780s without the injustices, inequalities and exploitation of those eras? Are we capable of adapting ourselves into a steady state economy and society after having been so drunk on change and growth? She casts a couple of glances over at Cuba which plainly has achieved fantastic results in terms of national health on a very poor resource base, yet it is a society which is fairly buttoned down socially. And Astyk herself puts morality at the centre of her vision implicitly as the means to achieve this, home front and the ideals of wartime mobilisation of the domestic to grow your own, to make do and mend for the good of the cause is grand, if I was feeling nasty however I might describe this as a volksgemeinschaft, but then I'm not American and disinclined to be a flag waver. Generally thinking of traditional agrarian societies, while they can be stable and (with composting, mulching, and pollarding) sustainable, they can also be fairly repressive places, arguably they have to be so in order to survive. The downside it seems to me is that Joan of Arc drives out an oppressive and exploitative economic order at the cost of welcoming in a repressive conservative social order. Then again for many I suspect welcoming back Charles VII is something to look forward to rather than to be uncertain about. So for me the the issue remains open do we get to have liberty, equality and fraternity (or solidarity ?

The big plus is that her approach is reasonably measured and rooted in personal action: the future is uncertain - well store food, be prepared to be able to put up friends and relatives indefinitely. Adapt to be able to live without electricity, or running water. The downside I feel is that her prescription is practical only in certain contexts, ie you can afford a property with a sufficiency large garden that has access to potable water, in a climate that is habitable with minimal input, in Britain this would push you to the corners of the kingdom which tend to be worse affected by extreme weather events, have fewer jobs and are I suspect more at risk from cuts to state services. In such a future, bicycles are brilliant so long as you can be confident that roads and bridges will remain in good repair. A radical upheaval of debt and landownership would make her go home and stay there philosophy more practical, particularly for those too poor to own houses with a couple of acres of ground. As a universal solution to the issues which changing circumstances will force on us, I feel this doesn't cut the mustard. However for some - those with the correct type of property with minimal debt, this book has a lot of reassurance to offer.

In terms of social attitudes I do like that she puts the domestic sphere at the centre of the stage and asserts its value. As much as I am romantically attached to ideals of family and cosy communities, my criticism would be that these are not always ideal institutions, even when they are that doesn't come without dangers - although perhaps I go too far in living under the shadow of Njall's Saga, historically religious communities, at least thinking about Britain are about exclusion - they were mutually supportive internally because the rest of society excluded them on the grounds of their beliefs. Faith based communities need a social climate of tolerance and acceptance for them not to become a source of conflict.

I think now that this is a better book than Naomi Klein's This changes Everything, but that probably says a lot more about me than either book.
Profile Image for Tina Cipolla.
112 reviews13 followers
August 12, 2015
All I can say is WOW! This book was great. So far the single best book on sustainable living in a peak oil, peak recession (depression) world. Lots of excellent advice on how to survive a crisis such as a natural disaster, economic collapse and very highly practical advice on how to survive in a "no energy available" situation. It is easy to think that in our modern, 1st world civilization this cannot happen, but in many parts of the world the electricity is only on for a couple hours per day or not at all (Post Hurricane Katrina NOLA. Iraq, Afghanistan, Rolling Blackouts peak summer in California, etc...). What would you do if there was no electricity? This book has a strong focus on food security, therefore she tackles the following: Where would you get food? How would you eat? What would you eat? This book contains lots of specific advice on exactly what food to store and how to prepare it should some disaster happen to you. She also details how much cold/heat the body can handle and what to do if there is no climate control and you live in a cold/warm location and you cannot get heat or a/c. All of the suggestions made in this book are accessible to people of ALL income levels. You will not find any useless advice such as installing a $60,000 solar or wind power system. Astyk realizes most people do not have these kind of resources, but she does show you how you can survive off grid if you are forced to.

If the future makes you nervous at all, this book will calm many of your fears by giving you tools you can use TODAY to be ready for any eventuality tomorrow.
Profile Image for Susan Albert.
Author 92 books2,210 followers
October 3, 2009
The subtitle of this book—One Woman's Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times—pretty much tells the story.

This is not just another of those doom-and-gloom, batten-down-the-hatches-and-man-the-lifeboat handbooks we have seen so many of in the past few years. I've read most of those other books, and while they are helpful in understanding why we are where we are (in terms of energy depletion, climate change, and overwhelming personal and national debt), they don't go very far toward helping us deal with the problems we are facing.

Depletion and Abundance is different. For one thing, it is written by a woman—a smart, well-informed, and energetic woman. She is also a mother of four small children who manages to grow a garden, put food in the freezer, home school the kids, and write about it. These are not small matters, for all of the other books that have been written about energy, environmental, and economic woes have been written by men, bless 'em. These writers understand conceptually what we are facing and tell us with great authority and occasional sympathy just how bad it's likely to be. But Sharon Astyk is different. She speaks with authority and sympathy, but she focuses on how we can manage when tough times come. She writes with cheerfulness, humor, and great personal commitment. I'm betting that, if anybody can show us the way forward, she can.

For another thing, Depletion and Abundance is a book about the "new home front"—and if you ask me, this is where our real battles will be fought: not in Washington or in some foreign country, and not with guns (we hope). We will be trying to make our lives better at home. We will be working with a toolkit that women will need to know how to acquire and use: food from the garden, low-energy appliances, and care and attention to the wise conservation and deployment of the family's resources of time, effort, and money, in and out of the "official economy." Peak oil and gas, the use of coal and nuclear and renewable resources—these are public issues and must of course be addressed by national and local governments. But as Astyk points out repeatedly, it all comes home in the end. Home is where we will find sufficiency or scarcity, and it is women who will man the home front. This is a new message, an important message. We need to listen up.

Depletion and Abundance is full of important and helpful ideas. Astyk suggests ways we can reduce our consumption, get out of debt, and learn how to use what we have—use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without: the real homeland security, as she sees it. She has learned to live on seasonal produce and local foods. She and her family have faced the frightening fact that our futures may not be fully or continuously electrified (as I write this, Hurricane Ike has imposed this knowledge on some four million reluctant learners). Astyk has learned how to cope and she tells us how. Indeed, she is never stingy with her ideas. There's a 14-page appendix full of good suggestions for turning less into more, and more, and more.

And that, at least for me, is what is most important about this book. Yes, we're facing an unpredictable future where there will be less of everything. But the human spirit, as Astyk shows us, is capable of a marvelous alchemy. We can turn tough times into a test, and pass it. We can become self-sufficient, and in the process, learn how to recognize true abundance when we see it. Hers is an optimistic vision, to be sure—overly optimistic, in some ways. But we need optimism now, don't we? And if we need it now, we'll need it even more next week or next year or the years after that, in what may be a future most of us don't want to think about.

Read Depletion and Abundance and see if it doesn't change your ideas about what's ahead. It just might change your life, too.
93 reviews3 followers
March 23, 2009
Wow - this book was a real eye opener for me. Not so much the part about needing to be ready in case of a crisis, but more the ways that we can do that. I loved the ease that Sharon used to discussed Peak Oil and Climate without sounding like a text book. Although I don't see my family turning off our electricity any time soon, we have certainly found ways to conserve more. And we are trying to be less wasteful. We are definitely readopting my mother's and grandmother's way of living, "Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without. And our whole family is using our new found inspiration to put a better effort into being self sufficient and preparing for an emergency. I couldn't get on board with some of Sharon's ideas, especially her ideas on what to do about population control. I do think it is something to be aware of, but I think that it should be approached more along the lines of, "how can we make our footprint on the world smaller so that we can accommodate all the people on it" rather than, "there should be rules about how old you are when you start a family and how many children, if any, you should be allowed to have." Also, her housing ideas struck me as extreme, but I do believe that a lot of the "rich world" is living beyond their means, and may need to take such drastic measures. And while I agree with some of her points about income generated from military, it is a hard pill to swallow since that is how my family keeps up our habit of eating. But general speaking, this book was informative, interesting, and for our family, inspiring.
Profile Image for Poiema.
455 reviews65 followers
February 17, 2011
If the dollar crashes, Americans could find themselves living the way that Grandma or Great-Grandma lived in the days of the dust bowl depression. Would it be B-A-D? Sharon Astyk shows us that in many ways, life might actually be enhanced. Less waste, slower pace, more satisfying work, a greater reliance on community, increased physical activity, local food networks--there could be a silver lining to the dark cloud of economic crisis. I do not share the world view of this author, yet find her commitment to sane living admirable and gleaned many wise and practical things that can only be a benefit if economic hardships become reality. Even optimists will agree that having a disaster plan is smart, why not make a few small changes now rather than to be caught off guard if that time comes?
Profile Image for Jennifer Miera.
818 reviews5 followers
August 15, 2009
I really enjoyed this book, though I came away desperately wanting to know more specifics on how to prepare for the coming crises. For god's sake, woman, tell me how much food? What kind of pans I should have, how I can heat my house if wood is not an option? Where the heck would I get water in an urban setting? I loved that she is a breast feeding momma who grows and puts up her own food. It's rare to get the family perspective. Survival is a lot different when it's just you or you and a partner. Bringing kids into the picture changes your outlook entirely. I'm tuning in to her blog sharonastyk.com and eagerly awaiting her next book.
Profile Image for Zora.
1,194 reviews50 followers
July 27, 2016
Very girly.

Oh dear, that's sexist, but dang it, this book is. It's like the Junior League (is there still a Junior League?) version of how to survive the coming end times, post peak oil.

The first half was rehashed ideas of other writers (and since we're a few years past the housing crisis/market crash, it sounds a bit over-urgent). I thought the survival/traditional skills section should have been more about you, the reader, than me, the author. It was very me-me-me, and frankly I don't care what her kids' favorite books and candy bars are (though who knows, maybe that makes it "relatable" for other suburban moms). And I rolled my eyes several times about minor issues (all this talk about social justice and buying locally, and then bragging about drinking fair trade Earl Gray tea. Hmm. Okay, let's put aside the nature of British imperialism in India that gave Brits and Americans the taste for black tea in the first place, and admit that particular box probably came from China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Vietnam...or someplace far away from the Northeastern US and got to the local yuppie market on big diesel-powered container ships dragging along invasive flora and fauna then big 18 wheelers burning more diesel. And it's a pretty big leap of trust to trust a "fair trade" label, I've always thought. Words are cheap and noble claims are easy to make), and major issues alike (forgot we were still in that same sentence, didn't you?) (like a whole chapter justifying having four children in an overpopulated, overstrained world and soon to be collapsing, according to the author, nation, which simply failed to convince me. If you two adults know better than to triple your burden on Mother Earth, why not do what you know to be right? Everyone has some excuse about not doing better, which is why we didn't solve the energy crisis when we still could and when Jimmy Carter told us to. If those who are educated enough to know better don't, what hope is there that the lesser educated will act to save her 20 or more great-grandchildren from some really ugly crisis times?) And the author believing in the fall of industrial civilization and family sustainability efforts and not believing in learning basic gun skills is an eye-roller for me. Let's hope for her family's sake the collapse doesn't actually come soon, leaving them with a 3800 square foot farm house, a huge garden, rabbits and a hen house, and no gun to defend it. That won't be pretty.

Still, better Junior League types should make this sort of effort than continue to overbuy from the LL Bean and Le Redoute catalogs, drive a Range Rover to the salon weekly, and fly to Europe for ski vacations. And it's far more sensical than Al Gore telling people to buy a hybrid and low-energy water heater, like that'll make a noticeable dent in the problem: that makes me roll my eyes so hard I can actually pull an eye muscle. So a star for the "it'll hurt" honesty here about a drastic change in lifestyle.

Was that review too blunt of me? So be it. The eye-rolling bits didn't leave me in a mood to tiptoe around those complaints.
Profile Image for Ami.
1,593 reviews43 followers
February 4, 2011
I find myself incredibly conflicted with this book.

On one hand, I believe that the author is suffering from an extreme case of "The Sky is Falling" syndrome. Sharon Astyk paints a grisly picture of the world economically, environmentally, and politically. Entire continents without power, skyrocketing poverty, and rampant disease are only a few of the coming scenarios that she believes are on the way.
I also must admit that her extreme "environmentalism" seems to me a bit over the top. Phrases such as "carbon footprint" put my teeth slightly on edge and some of the author's suggestions on erasing my aforementioned carbon footprint make me scratch my head in bewilderment. I will not make my own menstrual pads. EVER. Nor, do I plan on collecting my own urine to fertilize my crops.
Finally, I found the author to be a tad bit hypocritical (in the nicest way possible, if one can imagine that, so it seemed a bit more palatable.) She devotes an entire chapter to population control and yet has had four children. She advocates that homeschooling will help stop our dependence on oil because our children won't need to be transported, but then sends one of her children to public school, on an actual bus. She champions a cause (quite eloquently and vigorously) that exhorts the audience to use less technology and electrical power but she, herself, uses a computer, internet, and television daily.

And yet.

And yet, I found her arguments for a return to a simple, agricultural life incredibly compelling. Astyk's claim that we can find overwhelming abundance in the simple things rings true to me. Her plea that we all return to the land (even if that is on an apartment balcony) and raise some of our own food feels right and good. Finally, having just emerged from a three day ice storm that shut down the 13th largest city in the United States, I am convinced that all of us need to be better prepared for the hard times that will inevitably come via weather calamities, unemployment, illness, death of a spouse, or other disaster. And this book can help one do that.
Profile Image for Maria.
17 reviews5 followers
October 22, 2010
A must read for anyone who's concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change. When I watched An Inconvenient Truth and A Crude Awakening a few years ago, I began to see the writing on the wall. The problem I had was, not many of the talking heads in these documentaries were offering concrete suggestions as to what ordinary people like me can or should be doing in light of the coming crises. There was a lot of talk about corporate and government policy change, and technological innovation, but as young person in my twenties with no college degree, I don't often feel that it's within my power to have a lot of impact in those areas. I wanted to know what I can do differently as part of my day-to-day, especially considering I was closer to the beginning of my adult life--finding a partner, making a home together and starting a family (well, the family had already started before I came along--I'm a stepparent).
Sharon Astyk delivers the goods with Depletion and Abundance. Herself a working mother of four young children, she offers a useful and practical perspective on how to effect change through radical low-energy living, starting at home and radiating outward. She doesn't sugar-coat the harsh realities of a changing world, yet she remains a self-described optimist when it comes to human beings' capacity for great positive transformation.
This book has given me a powerful philosophical starting point for my family's and my community's future, not to mention tons of small, good ideas for everyday living. Highly recommended.

Edited to add: I have inattentive-type ADHD and my reading rate is very low for someone of my age, intellectual ability and vocabulary level. I found almost all of this book to be engaging and relatively easy to read.
Profile Image for Dunrie.
Author 3 books6 followers
May 29, 2010
Forecasting a future of reduced oil/energy and increased conflict, Sharon Astyk manages to remind us that what is valuable are our relationships with our family and friends and the communities we build.

At times, I found her alarm and her survivalist advice hard to take - envisioning McMansions as the new slums, counseling the reader to check with friends and family for where you can go with your livestock, advising I should have 6 months of food stored....

She is at her most evocative sharing her joy in the simple pleasures of growing her own food with her family, preserving it for out of season enjoyment, describing how she teaches her children, eating locally, living intergenerationally, and caring for the land. She does convince that abundance is a separate thing from what is acquired in a mall or via mail order internet shopping.

And, her vision of suburbia filled with the equivalent of Victory gardens and neighbors collaborating for a sustainable future is a happy one.
Profile Image for Sara.
226 reviews
April 2, 2012
I wanted to enjoy this book. It had such potential but I was just not in the mood for lecture about the end of .....everything. Maybe another day.
Profile Image for Xeo.
9 reviews1 follower
July 18, 2019
Depletion And Abundance: Life On The New Homefront; OR, One Woman’s Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times. Writer, teacher, blogger, polymath and farmer Sharon Astyk sure chose a long title for this book, though the title does sum it up quite nicely.

This book is a guide. Forgive the cliche but it’s a sort of bible, offering both moral/philosophical direction and actionable practices. Astyk guides us through a good hard look at our times, and suggests ways to cope - even thrive - despite the challenges facing the world today. Beginning with a primer on the current (as of 2008) economic and environmental climate, she then moves on to share her tips on making the most of money, employment, family, food, health, and just about every other topic most of us face in our day to day lives.

Astyk writes this book on the premise that the world’s population is quickly using up its nonrenewable resources, so it’s a problem that our society is so astonishingly dependent upon them. She goes further to explain that many of us in the U.S. are using more than our fair share of resources, and shows her audience how she lives a less impactful life. And when I say less impactful I mean cutting her energy use by 90 percent!

Astyk is described as a “female Wendell Berry.” And I suppose in many ways this is accurate. She’s critical of placing all our eggs of survival in the basket of technological solutions, seems to have a deep connection with the land that sustains her family, and places great emphasis on the “informal economy.”

But Astyk is very much her own self, and has a wonderfully unique voice. Perhaps where she stands out most, or at least what I find most admirable and compelling about her work, is that she’s a scholar (well researched and articulate, knows specific numbers, studies, academics) but also very practical (lives what she studies, offers practical, actionable advice rather than rambling vaguely about lofty concepts or opinions). She excels at explaining the big picture while simultaneously keeping her audience grounded in their own lives and in the moment. It’s rare to find such a balanced perspective, and I value Astyk’s work tremendously for it.

I found Depletion And Abundance in the resources section of No Impact Man (another book I highly recommend). So clearly these matters were already on my mind. Much of my prior experience with attempting to lessen my energy consumption, though, was guided by opinionated blogs or lofty academic articles that I could barely read. The information tends to be conflicting and confusing. I appreciate that Astyk’s work acknowledges the complexity of the situation, but is also firm and well researched in it’s suggestions on how to move forward in ways that I can feel good about, ways that are both moral and pleasureful and don’t require lots of money to consume “eco friendly” products.

I appreciate how accessible and practical her suggestions actually are, even though she’s talking about a major change in our way of life. It helps that I was already on board with her message before reading Depletion And Abundance, but what I gained from this book was invaluable insight into the projects I was already trying to achieve. My partner and I want to buy land someday, and Astyk’s advice helps me know what to look for. At her suggestion, I learned how to darn my socks instead of turning them all into rags and buying more. And ya know? It’s actually a lovely and relaxing way to spend an evening. The book even equipped me with the language and concepts I needed to find the confidence to begin talking to my mom and in-laws about their retirement plans, and my and my partner’s desire for us all to be in each others’ lives more.

Perhaps the one thing missing from Depletion And Abundance is how to do this work with others in my community. I live in a house with seven other people who use a shocking amount of energy. I find myself running around frantically, flicking off lights, pulling useful items out of the trash, and inconveniencing myself to purchase all our household necessities in bulk. I know my housemates care about their impact on the world, but it’s a tremendous lifestyle change, a conscious commitment that takes up a lot of mental energy and time. How can I begin to help my housemates lead a life in line with their values? I wish Astyk had stepped out of the nuclear family household for a moment to address this, because there are a lot of households like mine that really need help.

Astyk’s tone also seemed pretty doomsday-y. At first I was put off by this, but I strongly recommend to anyone who reads this book to bear with it. Remember, Astyk wrote this in the midst of the 2007 - 2009 recession. In many ways, it really did seem like life as we knew it was ending. And in some ways, it did. Don’t underestimate your ability to adapt to new situations. You survived “The Great Recession,” and now life seems like it’s back to normal. But think hard about how it’s changed. I’m sure you can adapt to Astyk’s suggestions, too.
452 reviews5 followers
April 21, 2022
Struggled a little bit with what categories to list this under. There's a lot of autobiographical information in there about the author (and her four kids and husband and huge old farmhouse...). But that's really not the point of the book. It's not quite a consciously feminist book, though she has a deep understanding of women's lives and women's roles and the costs they inflict. But how ever you label it, this book is a must read. Literally, lots of lives could be saved if everyone would read this and pay attention to it.

This book was published in 2008 and it is even truer and more urgent than it was then. It is about climate change and peak oil and the coming hard times. A few years before the book came out Jamie and I went to a weekend conference on peak oil. That's the idea that we are reaching the end of oil reserves and that year by year, we will be able to produce less at greater and greater economic and environmental cost. That has turned out to be only partly true. We are using more and more "advanced" and environmentally technologies (fracking, tar sands) to wring the last drops of petroleum from the earth. But then we discovered vast reserves of natural gas and how to use it. So in terms of supply, we could keep burning hydrocarbons as long as we want to. That of course is an unmitigated disaster. We would have been better off if the fossil fuels had run out a long time ago. We would have been forced to make the changes we still need to make.

A lot of this book isn't new. Some of it I and people like me have been saying since the 1970's. Way back then I and some of my friends started a Cincinnati chapter of the Quaker group Vocations for Social Change. We put out a VSC newsletter. I remember writing an article about how much of the year we work just to support our jobs- having and maintaining a fueling a car to commute, lunches out, dinners out when we come home too tired to cook, a wardrobe full of clothes for work, paid child care, etc etc.... That is one of the points she makes in this book. What is new is the way a whole bunch of stuff is pulled together in one clear cohesive view point and the blunt power in how she makes her points.

Her message is that we have run out of time to mitigate climate change. We must make dramatic changes or have them forced on us in crisis. We have to stop pretending that we can find ways through technology to keep doing what we are doing, just with renewable energy, green methods, etc. We cannot. There is no way that we can quickly enough change our technology and all the renewable technologies (solar panels etc) also require tons of resources, mining, etc. We have to revert to smaller, simpler, lower tech, human powered lives.
Profile Image for Keith Farnish.
Author 7 books5 followers
September 13, 2016
I was going to read Sharon Astyk’s latest, Independence Days first, but then realised that Depletion and Abundance : Life on the New Home Front had to come first, being Sharon’s first solo published venture and, as I would later come to realise, a book which neatly outlines her entire philosophy on sustainable living. As much a personal tale of change and achievement as a manual for sustainable living for the average civilized person, the author’s humble, often self-effacing nature washes over the pages of the book. Many authors would shun such an approach, possibly to avoid accusations of mawkishness; but not Sharon Astyk, who manages to take us into her world, introduce us to her family, invite us to feed her goats and show us her cupboards, all in the name of sheer practicality. There is not a hint of smugness in sight.

On the other hand, such homely tales of family life misrepresent the intensity of Depletion and Abundance: it is not a book to take lightly, nor is it possible to take it lightly, such is the density of Sharon’s writing style and the flood of ideas that pours from every chapter. No surprise then, that it took me far longer to read than almost every other book of a similar ilk I have read. In the early chapters, which talk at great depth of the situation we are in and how the domestic structures we ignore at our peril are being broken down by a system that only values profit and power, there really is no let-up: so while it is an educational, fulfilling and inspiring read, it is also pretty hard work, which might discourage some from reading on.

I implore you to keep reading.

Like all the best scripts — as I say, this is more story than polemic — Depletion and Abundance is eminently quotable, and lends itself perfectly to precis; such as this passage, essentially summing up the reason for the book’s existence:

"The simple truth is that I want people who read this book to think seriously about whether they have a viable backup plan for a crisis in the near future. Why? Not because I think the whole world is likely to collapse at once, but because I think any crisis will come in stages and segments."

"For me it might be tomorrow; my husband could lose his job because of rising energy costs, for example. For you, it might wait a while — or it might not. We don’t know; we’re playing the odds. And if, like me, you have loved ones you don’t want to risk by playing the odds, the choice becomes clear. Begin now. Begin thinking and preparing for a difficult future today."

From the beginning through to the end, Depletion and Abundance makes the assumption that the reader is ready to make a change of no little significance to their lives. On its own, the passage above may be enough to convince a nascent ‘simplifier’ to move away from the trappings of Industrial Civilization and towards a more survivable way of life; but it must always be borne in mind that the vast majority of people are too brainwashed by the consumer culture to think of any other way. I suspect, even, that Sharon herself doesn’t quite see Industrial Civilization as something to get angry with and wish the end of, more as something that can potentially be manipulated for good:

"A good education, up to and including college doesn’t have to cost 30K a year. Basic public medical care including vaccinations, preventative medicine, midwifery, simple palliative care for the dying, many basic medications, birth control and some hospital care doesn’t have to cost us what it does. Neither do libraries, public services and support programs for the poor."

Which is all very desirable but not, I think, feasible without most of the other — more destructive — aspects of civilized society; particularly currency: we are hardly likely to be able to pay for hospital treatment with a bushel of carrots or an offer to repair the roof. Something has to give in a collapsing society, and it will ultimately be the public infrastructures that most people depend upon. It’s a very fine balance, and even writers like Richard Heinberg, whom Sharon quotes from in the book, haven’t really got to grips with this difficult conundrum (I am still reeling from his suggestion that the “Beauty of the built environment” is something to savour!)

One other minor criticism: for most people in the civilized world, reading Sharon’s heartfelt tales of home life may be counter-productive — a first step too far perhaps, especially when she ‘guilt trips’ over her kids eating the odd ice lolly. I just can’t compete with this level of self-flagellation, and perhaps she needs to give herself a break from time to time. No one is perfect, and it is our imperfections that make us individual.

Back to the really good stuff, and I can’t help but notice the number of times I had written “good” or “excellent” in the margins of my review copy. Her treatments of home economy and raising children in a consumer society are second-to-none. Here is a passage from the chapter ‘Making Ends Meet’, which I had commented as being “Great advice to give people in the [debt] trap”:

"Are you starting to feel the pinch already? Well cut back some more. Sell the computer, and give up the Internet — go to the library instead. Find a carpool and give up your car, or get on a bike. Dump the tae kwon do lessons for the kids, and teach them to cook from scratch and play pick up soccer with the neighbor kids instead. Go vegetarian, and eat more whole foods. Give up luxuries like coffee and beer. Make your fun at home — play games instead of going out."

For a typical suburban, American parent, this would sound like torture — how could anyone suggest I change my lifestyle! And, of course, it does run counter to the way of life we have been repeatedly told we deserve, like a L’Oreal advert running on constant loop. And, of course, it’s only by thinking the way Sharon suggests, that people will ever be able to ease themselves away from the society that destroys everything it touches.

Where Sharon really excels in, though, is lists: lists of things we should do every day; lists of handy tips for survival (many of which I must admit to not seeing in the sidebars, due to the gravitas of much of the surrounding text); lists of things she does in a typical day — that was my favourite bit, because it really brought home the fact that an ordinary family, albeit one with the guts and determination to survive for the long-term, can change in extraordinary ways, and come out of it with a richer, far more fulfilling life than they could ever have experienced in the dumbed-down world most Westerners take for granted.

Depletion and Abundance is not a book to solve the energy crisis, the climate crisis or the economic crisis (long may it continue): it is a book of ideas and inspiration for those of us who already care enough to change. If you are one of those people, then I throughly recommend it.
Profile Image for Marie S..
248 reviews6 followers
August 1, 2019
I share most ideas that Sharon Astyk discusses in the book. We don't know when, but at some point even Europe and America will be harshly shaken up by the way we use environmental resources. It's so easy to stay in denial, to think that we are better off than the rest of the world instead admitting that we've been reaping the food/work/oil of all the other continents. Yeah, sure, unpopular opinion, we should stop stealing other countries and then pretend they are poor because they deserve it.

No one is perfect and no one has got all figured it out, but we should strive to make it better. I don't understand people we told me a couple of month ago, we've used up all the resources alloted for the planet for this year, but then just went on with their life. Denial is strong, because it's easier and we are used to think confidently, something will magically make it better. No you have to work both in your home sphere and in the public life.

I would like to say Astyk was brave to go where she went with the chapter on healthcare/medical expenses. It's kind of controversial, but as far as I'm concerned, it's food for thoughts.

Profile Image for Rachel.
268 reviews
February 9, 2019
I underestimated how much this book would be about the alternative title ("One Woman's Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times."). This book is 80% Astyk trying to justify her own personal choices. It is not a how-to manual nor a useful reference book. Astyk occasionally gives suggestions of specific actionable items (ex: insulate your home) but they are always vague and commonsense, so never really pieces of information I could actually act on. The only sections I felt like I gained concrete information from were the introduction, where Astyk gave a great explanation of Peak Oil and had some great points about using the personal to achieve the political, and the Appendix Two, which contained recommended material for further reading. Even Appendix One was too erratic, unorganized, and vague to be useful.
Profile Image for Susan.
Author 4 books18 followers
July 14, 2018
I read this when I was concerned about so many things, where my food comes from, what we are doing to the land and the environment in our mass production of food, of things in general. And what will our future look like? And how can I be ready for whatever that is? According to the oil extraction industry, peak oil is a myth. Oil can now be extracted more efficiently (read fracking), and processed more efficiently. which sounds soothing to the ear, until you realize we are still polluting our planet, we are destroying our world because it's easier and more cost effective than researching other ways of living without oil. God knows, we don't want to interrupt the cash pipeline and send our economy into 'utter ruin'. Fear has so much useful power.
Profile Image for Teacher.
138 reviews3 followers
September 6, 2017
This book is on many homesteaders reading lists. The info is still true, but a bit out of date. I kept being amused by the author's discoveries for instance that inter-generational housing is beneficial, or that families with young children actually need at least one stay home adult, or that sharing economies are going to become increasingly necessary (not a yuppie earth loving self-congratulatory sacrifice). Most thrifty homesteaders have already figured all this out, I guess. As have a million generations of our human ancestors. Still, it's validating to have the arguments articulated so eloquently.
Profile Image for Robert.
29 reviews
November 3, 2022
Honestly and well written. Holds up well going into a party st COVID world.
Profile Image for Lisa.
293 reviews22 followers
August 17, 2010
If I could just recommend one book for everyone I love to read, it would be this one. Sharon Astyk writes the incredible blog, Casaubon's Book, which I only discovered after I had read Depletion and Abundance. If you already know about peak oil (peak everything), economic instability and climate chaos, skip to the middle and begin reading her simple and doable suggestions for a meaningful life through simplicity, family, community, gardening, cooking, etc. I don't find her a bit "preachy," which some other reviews have implied. Instead, she doesn't pretend to be "objective," but just tells you her opinion without the academic window dressing. I also highly recommend her books, Independence Days and A Nation of Farmers. Oh, the other thing I like about all her books is that they are written in short essay form. Each short essay is packed with so much to think about and "digest" (no pun intended), that the format is perfect. You can read a half-dozen pages, then think about it for several days, then go back for more.
Profile Image for Alison.
190 reviews
December 2, 2012
Excellent. This is the book to read after you've read all the horrifying books about peak oil, climate change, and economic collapse, and have started to panic. Instead of promoting a survivalist lifestyle, with a bunker full of 20 years worth of MREs, Astyk offers suggestions on how to gently navigate the transition to a world that can no longer depend on fossil fuels, from the perspective of someone who is - mostly - already living a low energy life. This book brings together many ideas from the permaculture and transition communities, with both baby starter steps and more intense projects for those who are interested in beginning the shift to sustainability before they have no choice.

I especially liked her thoughts on families spending a great deal of time together.

She does assume the reader is already familiar with peak oil and climate change, so this is a great follow-up read to Kunstler's The Long Emergency or Richard Heinberg's books.
Profile Image for Lauren.
156 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2014
I mean...I imagine most of this is true, and perhaps some of my uneasiness is due to a lack of willingness to change...but I refuse to believe that we must take the sky-is-falling attitude and get rid of all of our creature comforts. And as someone trying to go zero waste who drives her car once every two weeks, I don't think that we need to live in a 40 degree house. I think if everybody made more sustainable choices, we'd be far better off. I also don't think her view that almost everybody's job is just "make-work" is valid or commendable. I love my work, and a lot of people in my field are working towards more sustainable options. I think new ways of living through engineering innovation can be a solution; we got ourselves into this mess, and we can get ourselves out of it...and I don't think we have to live without power, heat, or plumbing to do it (just less).
Profile Image for Laura.
51 reviews
April 30, 2010
I have read so much about peak oil and the approaching collapse of civilization as we know it that this book was more "preaching to the choir" for me. Found myself paging past all of the doom and gloom. I know! I get it!

However, it did challenge me to reconsider how much energy I am using and how to get along with far less. This chick managed to reduce her energy consumption by 90%. Wow.

I figure if I can reduce 10% each year, I can keep ahead of the electric company who wants to raise my rates 9% this year because everyone is saving too much energy. They are whining because they aren't making enough money! Can you believe it?

Ha! I'll show you Mr. Electric Company! You are giving me just the incentive I need to get off the grid.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
353 reviews11 followers
September 29, 2008
OK, the current news is depressing, and maybe you're thinking that it's time to pack it all in and live in a shack back in the woods. And I'm kind of with you on that. But Sharon? She's already got her place in the country, and she is doing some AMAZING things with it -- even though she's working her tail off with four kids and a husband and a lot (I mean, A LOT) of farming and food preservation and living more simply -- and she's enjoying life. THAT is what we have to remember: hard times may come, but we have the opportunity to find the true abundance and the true joys in life, working together to heal the world. Sharon's book provides the inspiration.
Profile Image for Patrick Cauldwell.
36 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2010
While I may not totally agree with Ms. Astyk's timeline, I certainly agree with the majority of her points about where we are headed and what needs to be done to get out of it or deal with it ourselves. This book is definitely more pessimistic than her book "Independence Days", which I enjoyed a bit more. Depletion and Abundance is, if I could some up, more about the importance of community building than strictly about preparedness in the more survivalist sort of sense.

Well worth reading, although I would recommend "Independence Days" more, particularly if you are interested in practical solutions.
Profile Image for Nicole.
89 reviews
December 16, 2012
almost gave it a 5, would do 4 1/2 if possible...this book is much more user friendly for regular people than other things I've read on the topic. And though some of it is scary, it's real, and I am at the same time encouraged to see I've been taking some steps in the right direction.

Our current lifestyle in the US and most of the "First World" is unsustainable. I am already seeing the signs of the increased difficulty of life that the author foresaw. If you are not filthy rich and want to learn to live more sustainably I highly recommend this book.
55 reviews
October 23, 2008
I learned a great deal from this one. The book is auto-biographically written by Astyk to relate her low-input lifestyle and encourage/educate others to do the same. She's clearly well educated on the topics of energy, agriculture, and education, so her arguments come less from an extremist, doomsdayer and more from a realistic, academic perspective.

I appreciated the information and I hope to move towards her way of living.
25 reviews4 followers
September 5, 2009
The author is pretty extreme. I wouldn't say that I agree with her on everything - I was a little freaked out with her ideas about population control - but she also had a lot of very practical, very useful solutions to living a simpler, less energy intensive life. I did find that to be helpful and informative. Overall, I think it's a worth-while read. However, I would read it with a grain (or 2) of salt.
Profile Image for Sarah.
208 reviews8 followers
May 26, 2016
I talked a lot about this book while I was reading it. I also finally bought a water filter and started thinking more concretely about emergency preparedness. Her message that things will change but that change can be interesting, challenging and fun resonates. Her idea that life as we know it now cannot continue after peak oil makes sense and is logical. We have to meet the current crisis with ingenuity, resilience and adaptability. I'm in.
Profile Image for Martinxo.
674 reviews57 followers
November 15, 2008
This is an important work.

A Peak Oil book with no charts or graphs, wow!

Instead, Sharon Astyk focuses on the practical and ethical issues around living in an world facing the double whammy of energy depletion and climate change.

Go check her excellent blog for more of the same:


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