How Do You Choose Where to Live if You Want to Live Sustainably?

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Kevin here—one half of That Yurt (one quarter if we’re counting dogs). Apologies may be in order, as it’s been so long since setting up this ‘til-now-dormant newsletter that you probably even forgot you signed up for it. Better late than never, and the middle of winter in Vermont seems like the perfect time to find another way to occupy some time.

I’m writing on Sunday night and I’ve just returned from a month-long road trip to the Southwest, southern Utah specifically. Annie has been in New York this weekend for work and so I returned with the dogs to an empty yurt. I’ve just got the fire going to get some warmth in here. Watched the dogs romp in the snow. Noted the tracks of a raccoon visitor in our absence. Collected water, filled the water filter. Some wine, a candle. You know.

Driving alone for thousands of miles and being alone in the desert affords plenty of time for thinking (and, for that matter, plenty of time for not thinking, for testing topographical map skills, for being tempted biblically by the Devil, etc.). And of course distance enables a different perspective on familiar facts.

I am drawn to the American West and the arid West. The reasons for this are a different discussion—color, space, geography, geology, time, freedom, sensibilities, history, and the like. I can’t really think of another place in this country more unlike gentle green Vermont. And it’s not that I dislike Vermont (also another discussion). But the fact remains that the West I love is arid, dry, dessicated, cracked, and thirsty. The fact of water is impossible to ignore, at least for a person supposedly invested in addressing environmental issues, conservation, preservation, or both. Edward Abbey wrote, “There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount…unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” Of course, that’s exactly what we’ve done, and the ramifications are clear. We use the water from the precious Colorado faster than it replenishes itself—Lake Mead’s bathtub ring is infamous.

I grew up in St. Louis, some 15 miles from the mighty Mississippi River. In grade school our class took bathroom breaks as a group, and a line formed at the drinking fountain. A teacher stood next to the fountain, counting aloud. Everyone got ten seconds (not because of a water shortage; just so hydrating a class of twelve-year-olds didn’t take all day). If someone kept gulping it down past their allotted time, a common refrain was “Leave some for us, you’re gonna drink the whole Mississippi.” In the Midwest and the East we are blessed with abundant fresh water, even if it is a little muddy.

I was struck on this trip, though, by the number of solar panels, and in particular the solar farms outside Vegas. Can a solar panel be happy? These panels were. They lapped up the sun and seemed pleased, if remarkably stoic, even in winter, and this is a novel idea compared to the Northeast, where the days become brief, the sunlight in short supply.

My question, then: How do you decide where to live if you want to live most responsibly? If you want a small environmental footprint, economic independence, and also the freedom of space? It seems a question of tradeoffs—sunlight and scarce water, abundant water and shorter growing seasons, or some sort of middle ground that likely falls somewhere in, maybe, Arkansas?

Can a supposed environmentalist live in the desert? Can they live in northern climes? Should we all be in Peru? Louisiana? Where should an environmentally minded individual live?

These questions aren’t rhetorical. I want to hear your thoughts. How did you choose where you are? What’s the ideal to your mind? What have you read that’s relevant?

I’d also love any feedback on what you’d like to hear from us in our newsletters, or any other thoughts you have: thatyurt (at) gmail (dot) comWarm fires + cozy shires,
Kevin, Annie, Henry, Holly

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