There's a lot one can do to get one's energy use and budget down on your own, but when you start hitting the wall, it is time to start looking for other people to work with. There's an enormous amount that an organized neighborhood group can do to help you get along with minimal energy usage. It isn't an accident that most people in low-energy societies spend a lot of time interacting with their neighbors - low input living means we *need* each other. One of the best ways to get started is to form a neighborhood group.
What do your neighbors have to do with your energy usage? What can you do to get your energy down? Well, let's say you've been driving out to the local farmer's market to buy fruits and vegetables every week? All you need are two other families who also want fresh, local produce, and you've cut your drive time down to once a week - one family does pick up one week, the next family the next. A coop, set up with the specific goal of finding ways to meet energy reduction and money saving needs can help you connect your seperate goals.
Or perhaps you've been driving your daughter to music lessons once a week. Perhaps a neighbor's child is going the same way, or perhaps a neighbor could teach basic piano to your daughter in walking distance, or neighborhood teenager could be paid to bicycle with your child safely to music lessons. You'll never know unless you try.
What about a swap meet? Once a month you have swap, with a different theme every time - this month it is duplicate tools, next month, toys or maternity clothes or books? What about a neighborhood "Free" box, where anyone can put anything they are getting rid of? How about bartering babysitting or garden produce or help painting your garage for something you've got that they need?
You need a new vacuum cleaner...or do you? What if you simply borrowed a neighbor's vacuum cleaner once a week, and in return, she borrowed your hedge trimmers? You may already do a little of this, but a coop formalizes the relationship, sets up rules and makes it easy.
How about a neighborhood dinner trade-off. Two families get together. Every Thursday, one family cooks, and drops off enough food for the other family. Ta Da! Free time, a meal you didn't have to cook or clean up from, and not much additional work for the person dropping off the extra lasagna.
How long before you trust each other enough to loan cars while one is in the shop, or to share a car entirely? How long before an elderly neighbor who really shouldn't be driving can trust that you'll help her out on errand day if she'll do your mending for you?
A neighborhood coop could offer classes, taught by the members. The lady down the street teaches sewing and knitting, you teach cabinet making, the guy up the hill teaches beer brewing. Or you could get a guest speaker in once in a while - hire someone to teach soap making or how to clean with ecological products, or edible landscaping.
A neighborhood coop has power with your local zoning board - you don't just represent yourself, you represent a neighborhood full of people who want to allow chickens, or hanging up laundry or bring a bus route your way. A neighborhood coop represents a way of resolving disputes, and focusing on common ground - you may not vote for the same people or share the same culture, but you both care about good food for your kids and living within your means.
A neighborhood coop has buying power - you can order your food in bulk and divide it up. Bringing in enough organic free range chickens for a whole neighborhood might make it worth a trip for a farmer to deliver, while one family's needs wouldn't be sufficient. A neighborhood coop can search out new sources for things, even ask local farmers to consider growing a new crop, and be sure that there'll be a good market for it. Perhaps together you can even afford to buy that woodlot and save it from developers, or hire one of you to provide a car service so that people could give up their vehicles and someone could have a job closer to home.
You can throw parties together, and let everyone have fun closer to home. Instead of driving into the city for live music, the best harmonica and guitar player in your neighborhood can get together and play. Instead of everyone at home watching their own tv, consider neighborhood movie nights for the kids and adults. Everyone gets to throw popcorn, make fun of the subtitles or sing along with the theme song.
There are countless ways that we could reduce energy - if only we could just share the burden a little. Get together. Form a group. Set up a plan. Let everyone tell you what they need and want. Change your lives. Change the world, just a little. Have a party. Start a coop.