ILSR’s Mother Earth News Columns

Date: 25 Feb 2013 | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Back in 1977 Mother Earth News asked ILSR to write a column called Local Self-Reliance.  Over the next several years we ended up writing more than three dozen.

Rereading them after all these years, we’re struck by how current they seem.  Back then we were identifying pioneering communities that were establishing solar utilities, expanding recycling, developing cooperatively owned stores and banks, planting urban forests, encouraging local food production.  This archive is dedicated to these pioneers.

Today these fragile shoots have taken root.   What a difference a generation makes. Then the conventional wisdom was that recycling could never handle more than 10 percent of the waste stream.  Today many cities have exceeded 50 percent.  Some are approaching 75 percent. In a growing number of cities sanitation networks are being reorganized to give recycling the starring role and making collection and disposal a bit player.

In the late 1970s only a few hundred U.S. homes boasted solar electric arrays.  Almost all were in rural areas and unconnected to the grid.  By the mid 1990s, as the price dropped, the number of grid connected solarized homes began to exceed the number of stand-alone systems.   Today ofter 250,000 buildings are solar powered and the number is increasing by more than 100,000 a year just in the United States.  Utilities are beginning to realize they will have to integrate a rapidly growing decentralized power sector into their design and planning calculations.

A generation ago we were writing about community gardens and the first modern farmers markets and the emergence of a new technology–hydroponics.  Today local food production has gone mainstream.  There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of farmers markets.  And large scale hydroponic businesses are growing vegetables inside cities.

A generation ago there were a lot more independent local businesses.  Today they are besieged by brick and mortar companies like Wal Mart and on-line companies like Amazon.  But in the last 10 years a Buy Local movement has emerged.  More than 50 cities have formal independent business associations. Cities are beginning to adopt policies that thwart big box retail while nurturing locally owned businesses.

Back then we wrote about cities owning their cable networks.  Today more than 75 cities own their own cable networks and another 60 own city wide fiber networks, putting the Verizons and ComCasts of the world to shame by offering the fastest and least expensive broadband connections in the country.

Even the term local self-reliance, which we believe we coined, has gained a common usage.

Too often we look at how far we have to go and how formidable the forces arrayed against us are.  This archive offers evidence of how far we we’ve come.


Publicly Owned Cable TV. Mother Earth News. May 1983

The Pacific Northwest Gives Us the First Citizens Regional Energy Plan. Mother Earth News. March 1983

Tapping Into Nature for Air Conditioning Year Round. Jan. 1983


motherearth1982New York City Prohibits the Transport of Nuclear Materials. Mother Earth News. Nov. 1982

Worker Owned Grocery Stores in Philadelphia. Mother Earth News. Sept. 1982

Self-Reliant Cities: A New Book by ILSR Highlights Cities Who Take Their Future Into Their Own Hands. Mother Earth News. July 1982

Municipal Solar Utilities. Mother Earth News. May 1982

Nixing a Mall, Establishing a Neighborhood Government, and More. Mother Earth News. March 1982

State Laws Enable Recycling. Mother Earth News. Jan. 1982


motherearth1981Community Solar Power. Mother Earth News. Nov. 1981

Neighborhood Special Districts. Mother Earth News. Sept. 1981

Here Comes the Independent Power Producer. Mother Earth News. July 1981

Landfill Salvage: Keeping Materials Home. Mother Earth News. May 1981

Community Crime Prevention. Mother Earth News. March 1981

Urban Alcohol Fuel Production. Jan. 1981


motherearth1980Studying Community Economies. Mother Earth News. Nov. 1980

Making Recycling Work. Mother Earth News. Sept. 1980

Community Solar Greenhouses. July 1980

Creating Community Exchanges. Mother Earth News. May 1980

Municipal Composting. March 1980

Home Energy Efficiency. Mother Earth News. Jan. 1980


motherearth1979Urban Fish Farming. Mother Earth News. Nov. 1979

Reviving Urban Forests. Mother Earth News. Sept. 1979

Plugging the Dollar-Energy Drain in the District of Columbia. Mother Earth News. July 1979

Building a Community Park. Mother Earth News. May 1979

Inner City Farmers Markets. Mother Earth News. March 1979

Composting Toilets. Mother Earth News. Jan. 1979


motherearth1978Food for the Pickin’. Mother Earth News. Nov. 1978

A Newark Neighborhood Practices Local Self-Reliance. Mother Earth News. Sept. 1978

Local Job Creation and Energy Efficiency. Mother Earth News. July 1978

Large Scale Composting in the Bronx. Mother Earth News. May 1978

Solar Greenhouses. Mother Earth News. March 1978

Community Owned Housing. Mother Earth News. Jan. 1978


motherearth1977Is a New Garbage System Emerging? Mother Earth News. Sept. 1977

HomeGrown Hydroponics. Mother Earth News. March 1977

David Morris
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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.