Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology

To double down on the irony this morning, as soon as I announce computer problems I discover it to be just a loose power cord and shazam we’re back with a blog post–back to discuss an appropriate technology journal from the pre-internet days.

One hopeful node in the otherwise sewage clogged tubes of the interwebs, is the work of librarians who have thoughtfully digitized old periodicals. I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon reading the delightful Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology, which was published between 1974 and 1996. Here’s the description on the Portland State Library website:

RAIN began in October 1974 as a publication of ECO-NET, an environmental education network funded by the Hill Foundation and an Environmental Education grant. Its office was based in the Environmental Education Center at Portland State University. With a focus on the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, RAIN originally described itself as a “bulletin board” with an “emphasis on environmental/energy related and communications kinds of information” and interested in “the evolutionary possibilities of inter-disciplinary connections.” RAIN is notable for its early engagement and promotion of appropriate technologies supporting sustainability, sound ecological practices, and decentralized community action.

RAIN is kind of like the Whole Earth Catalog but with a special focus on applying appropriate technology here in the developed world. As one article put it, “You can’t sell compost toilets to others if you won’t use them yourself.”

For me, reading RAIN was melancholic. It’s hard not to think about how much better off we’d all be, from a climate change perspective, if we’d heeded the warnings and solutions offered back in the 1970s. Or for that matter, John Ruskin and William Morris’ concerns about the “dark satanic mills” of the 19th century. Hell, we even made a stab at this when we wrote our books around the time of the 2008 economic meltdown. But somehow the allure of shiny consumer objects sends us all back into destructive spasms of consumption and waste and publications like RAIN get forgotten.

Rain featured a lot of articles by E. F. Schumacher, as well as covering such topics as energy efficiency, permaculture and alternative schools. One topic I’d never thought much about, the destructive influence of tourism, seemed to be the special concern of co-editor Tom Bender. Here’s an especially eloquent passage by Bender from the May 1976 issue:

Drinking wine one recent evening with Florian Winter, an Austrian visiting us on a global survey of renewable energy developments for the U.N., we got into talking about the destruction of European cathedrals by tourism.

Each person came, he said, and took away a little of the cathedrals–in their camera, in their mind, or in the conversation–and now nothing remains.

In that absurdity there is truth.

All places live though the reverence with which we hold them–without which they crumble to pieces, unloved, unmaintained, abandoned and destroyed. That reverence is the glue that in reality binds the stones and the blood that in truth sustains the life of a place.

For the life of a place lies in its relation to the people that share it. And it is that reverence first which is taken away, tour group by tour group. Without this reverence, a place has nothing to give to those whose lives it must sustain, and they in turn lose their nourishment and fall into the same dereliction as their cathedral. It need not be so, for the visit of a pilgrim differs from that of a tourist. A pilgrim brings love and reverence, and the visit of a pilgrim leaves behind a gift of their reverence for others to share.

. . . And we lessen the soul of all places to which we go, and ourselves as well when we take without giving and come to them without reverence to life and to land, to people and to place, to ourselves and to the creation of which we are part. That is the destruction of which tourism is part and from which tourism arises, and it is there that we again can find the healing power for our land and our lives.

It’s well past time that we consider the wisdom in the pages of RAIN again.

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  1. I want you to know that “The Urban Homestead” had a lasting impact on my life. I’d read books about self-sufficiency and homesteading before, but yours was so friendly and accessible, it made it possible to try a lot of things I’d never tried before, and strengthened the ones I’d already done (or was doing). I grow more of my own food, I make and use the castille soap/baking soda cleaner all the time, I compost and collect rainwater and shower water for the garden and hellstrip trees. In 2017, we foraged about a hundred pounds of fruit from neighborhood alleys and trees: blackberries, grapes, cherry plums – canned most of it, too. I rode my bike more (until it got stolen). You guys did good.

    • Crowgirl–many thanks for your kind comments. It means a lot to Kelly and I to hear feedback. Sorry about the bike!

  2. I live in a major tourist destination (Lisbon, Portugal) and I call humbug on the ideia that tourism necessarily destroys the object visited. (Which is not to say that OVER-tourism isn’t a valid problem. It’s also a different, rarer beast.)

    My city is a much nicer place to live because the mayor’s office made it a goal to “fix it up for the tourists”. Monuments are clean, public transportation is more functional, service professionals are more helpful, new cultural centers have been opened…

    I feel like much of our history has been PRIORITIZED and PRESERVED thanks to tourism.

    It’s up to the residents of a given place to create and re-create reverence, with each passing generation. And sometimes we need outsiders to remind us just how lucky we are to live in such a place!

    • All good points. I think there’s obviously a right and wrong way to do tourism. I will say I loved seeing a video of those crazy trams you have in Lisbon.

  3. “For me, reading RAIN was melancholic. It’s hard not to think about how much better off we’d all be, from a climate change perspective, if we’d heeded the warnings and solutions offered back in the 1970s.” –You

    Makes one feel a little ill to think about since now it’s too late…

    I appreciate the comment by Austin in Portugal that, in some places, tourism dollars drive restoration and maintenance efforts. Not always the case, though; witness the various beaches around the world being closed to tourists due to the trash and damage they leave behind.

    I live near Rocky Mountain National Park (and a few million acres of other public forest land) in Colorado. It is disheartening to hike the back country and find endless trash, damage, graffiti, disgusting human refuse (including the toilet paper and even condoms!), vandalism (did they really have to destroy that public outhouse and the big sign with the map?) and other signs of a total lack of reverence for nature’s ‘cathedrals’. Sigh.

    (Love your website)

  4. The link to past issues of Rain reminded me of information in your blog several years ago about a project to collect similar publications from the 1960s-1970s. I believe that the project originated with the Archdruid Report (and the Archdruid Report has apparently been discontinued). Any updates on that project?

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