Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cinco de Julio

After the revolution, then what? Good ole Ben said, "Gentlemen, we give you a republic -- if you can keep it."

I happened upon this concept, Riot for Austerity. Seems preposterous, doesn’t it, to riot for less. But in some ways, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Role models really do help, and that’s one way I’ve seen this blog of my life on the farm, one way to do it, one way to have a good life, an example.

So, over at the Simple Living they have a goal to reduce consumption/emissions by 90% (from American average) within a year’s time. I’m not participating in that, but it has been a wonderful jumping off thinking point, and a way to see where I am, however imperfect the metrics.

What I am going to do here is to repost their rules for their 7 categories, along with my household’s current standing therein, perhaps comments about that standing, and perhaps comments about the metric itself. At the end, I’m also going to add a category.

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.
No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.
Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.

This works out to 25/month for my family, and we use about 30-35/month on average from the past year.

We have reduced gasoline usage mostly by not going much. There is no possibility for us of public transit (at least, not yet -- within my lifetime there were buses that I could have caught within three miles or so of my extremely rural home). We would actually be game to bicycle or use a horse and wagon/buggy for the occasional 20 mile trip (wouldn’t it be great to not have a car at all?) but at this time that is waaay too dangerous. Driving is too dangerous too -- yet another reason to reduce doing it.

One way I’d tweak this metric is to add a penalty for newer cars. Maybe no penalty for cars over 10 or 15 years old, and then an ever increasing penalty for each more recent year. Why? Because of the consumption inherent in new goods. Hybrids are even worse, very high polluters in life-cycle terms and only economic if you take only the MPG and not the creation and waste (batteries in particular).

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH
Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback - that is, you get twice as many watts.
Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods - you get 4 times as many.

This is my worst metric. We use the US average now. I do know lots of reasons why which are areas we could reduce. For example, our freezers are in another building. We wired florescent lights into that circuit and leave then turned on so we are alerted if the power goes out to them. We could use LEDs instead maybe. We have an electric hot water heater, one of the worst electric appliances you can have. Still, I’m not getting rid of it, at least not yet, and we don‘t even have hot water hooked up to the washing machine. I think/rationalize that my other metrics are so low that it makes up for this one.

Plus these other things. Most people go to work, ship their kids off to school, where they also use electricity. Other people buy food, even low processed foods, that nevertheless have some cost of electrical use priced in them. We stay home, so our “work” electricity is here. We run our business here, producing real (concrete) goods, which also consume electricity. So part of what I’m saying is that not all our electricity usage would be “household” to more average Americans.

To comply with this metric, I live in the TVA service area, so a lot of our electricity is hydro. Personally I don’t care. That type of hydro is just as destructive as the coal fired plants. I think probably all grid electricity (electricity that is distributed in its use and concentrated in its source) is equally destructive at this time so I wouldn't give the paybacks unless it is coming off your own solar or hydro/wind system (which may well be what she had in mind, I‘m just not sure).

I have to note that I do not believe this metric would be accurate for all electric households. Pretty much every household uses some electricity -- fewer than 100% would use any one of the other heating methods, so this metric is probably low for the all electric households. These households should probably be allowed the same amount of electric energy equivalent to therms or gallons of heating oil below.

3. Heating and Cooking Energy - this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.
Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider. US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR
*Heating Oil (this is used by only about 8% of all US households, mostly in the Northeast, including mine). Average US usage is 750 Gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.
*Wood. This is a tough one. The conventional line is that wood is carbon neutral, but, of course, wood that is harvested would have otherwise been absorbing carbon and providing forest. There are good reasons to be skeptical about this. So I’ve divided wood into two categories.
*Locally and sustainably harvested, and either using deadwood, trees that had to come down anyway, coppiced or harvested by someone who replaces every lost tree. This is deemed carbon neutral, and you can use an unlimited supply. This would include street trees your town is taking down anyway, wood you cut on your property and replant, coppiced wood (that is, you cut down some part of the tree but leave it to grow), and standing and fallen deadwood. You can use as much of this as you like.
*Wood not sustainably harvested, or transported long distances, or you don’t know. 1 cord of this is equal to 15 gallons of oil or 20 therms of natural gas.

This might be the metric we’re best on. We use some propane to cook in the summer, I’m pretty sure under 50 therms/year (propane has 1.1 therm/gallon, a 20# tank is 5 gallons, to help others with the calculations). Should we get to building the patio area with its own wood cook stove and earth oven, we could do with a lot less propane. It’s in the plans but not on the horizon.

We heat and cook other times of the year with wood, mostly deadwood. Furthermore, and I think this is a BIGGIE, we do not use IC engines to do this harvest but saws, real saws. If it needs to be hauled, mostly we haul it by human or horse power. There is no power more efficient than human muscle power. To those who say they couldn’t do it, I say simply, it is like reducing your consumption by this much, it is just a matter of trying and isn’t nearly as hard as you think. Plus it has lots of personal benefits. Like health and safety. But also, a bow saw and a series of blades for the winter costs a lot less to buy than a chainsaw, and nothing at all to maintain. It weighs less, has a smaller footprint of manufacture, use and disposal, doesn’t produce any emissions.

4. Garbage - the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

Another good one for us. For my family, this works out to 19#/week. Last week, during which we forgot to put the can out so I can weigh it now, we generated 4# of garbage total. Our household trash is nearly always that low. If we’re cleaning some farm accumulation out, that is more.

I think trash is very much a measure of excess consumption.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

I understand why water is on this list, but I don’t think it applies to us at all. Water “pressure” is a function of living in high density and low rainfall areas. It might be appropriate to want to cut down treated water usage even when there is no water shortage just for the energy used, but to be obsessive about it if you don’t live in a water short area seems a . . . distraction at best. Of course, more and more areas are short on water, so there ya go.

Anyway, for us, our water is from a spring, and goes back into the same watershed after we use any amount we want to and doesn't pollute in any way. Our household water is currently pumped with an electric pump but the water we use on the garden does not consume any energy at all.

6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.
The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR
*Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out - that is, if someone says, “If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills.
*Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

I don’t disagree with this metric, I just find it difficult to calculate. I looked at everything I’d bought in conventional stores in the past month to get an idea, but this included “wet goods” in the food category, plus some bulk goods in the food category which is coming up next. I am glad consumer goods has a dollar amount, which I think is far more useful than the percentages used in the food category. Anyway, just based on our income (lowlowlow), I think we’d have to be close to being inside the $1K/year figure because our total income is so low.

We do save a lot of stuff from the landfill, like this computer I’m writing on, like the shirt I’m wearing. We’re in the beginning stages of experimenting with making our own wool socks because cheap socks suck and we can’t afford good ones, and I don’t know about you, but I just haven’t come across good socks on their way to the landfill. I don’t know when we’ve bought any clothing item new, even boots this past winter.

But I have to say, we do get some consumer goods without a hint of apology. We’ve saved almost enough for a Wii. I’d like to get a new camera. Etc.

I might add to this metric a penalty to any spending on credit. Or I might add another category to penalize credit. If you can’t pay cash for the car, or see your way to paying it off inside of one year at most, you can’t afford it. Nothingnothingnothing consumable on credit. A mortgage is ok only because most people have to have one but they should endeavor to pay that off early and never borrow against it.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.
#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly - it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 100 miles to me. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST cle70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.
#2 is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.
# 3 is Wet goods - conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

Well, I understand the difficulty of this metric because . . . there is no simple way to figure it, like there is for gasoline consumption per person. I really don’t know if wet goods constitute more than 5% of our diet. We splurge sometimes, and other times we will eat nothing off the place for a long time. We have a LOT of “dry bulk” because we do eat a lot of whole unprocessed grain -- that is, I process it. We have bulk wheat, rice, grits, oats, flax seed, popcorn, probably others. This metric would put my meat in this category, but I would put in the first category because we raise it and process it here. But it is fed some commercial feed. I did know some people who were driving 2.5 hours one way to pick up organic feed and that’s just not what I’d call sustainable myself. Or organic in the spirit of the term. I’d count what little animal feed we buy in the bulk category and the meat, milk, and eggs we consume in category one. They travel zero miles.

Although I still can’t believe she said “whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet.” They are the base of the food pyramid. Bread, rice, potatoes, barley, wheat, oats -- what do people eat if not these things? I mean, it really does make me wonder what is the base of their diet. We also buy coffee, tea, spices, yeast, baking powder, salt, those sorts of ingredients, mostly in bulk.

Our own food is produced in quantity here, and very sustainably. We’ve husbanded our soil, our pastures, our water. We don’t use IC engines for anything (the last mower gave up the ghost and we sharpened the scythe, swearing off them forever). But our brooding of the chicks, and our canning/freezing of the food would increase our fuel consumption counted elsewhere.

Oh, and chocolate should have its own category.

Just kidding on that one, but I do have some very politically incorrect additions to this list.

Food has to, at some point, include calories, and there has to be a limit per person of caloric content of food. Fat/gluttony is yet another form of over consumption. With lots of consequences.

Another complete category that I think needs to be added is income. If you have the money, you spend it. And there is an energy cost to every dollar earned as well as to every dollar spent. I would personally add penalties for income from the government (whether job, grant, or handout) because of what that money cost someone else. I subscribe to the Nearing’s ideal of bread labor -- every person produces his own bread, and then does his “professional” work separate from that bread labor. Bread labor is direct and productive work.

Another I’d be tempted to add would be medical care/medicine. We could use a good 90% reduction in this, imo. I’m always amazed at how few un-drugged people there are in the world.

I would thank the folks who put this together because I think it is an excellent thinking tool. I acknowledge that my take on the whole thing comes from a slightly different corner -- I don’t think enough people will cut consumption, and I don’t think you can make ‘em (or that it is ethical to try to make them). My best hope is that the gas runs out and soon. Anyway, I encourage you to run through this with your figures and see what your consumption says to you. And to look toward reducing it. For a better life.


Ren said...

Ok, I was just out mowing my mess of a backyard with intentions of creating more garden space. My chant this year is "use what you have" and that's why I was out with the mower we own, pushing over 5 foot tall weeds.

I'm sore from two days of it, but feeling good about it and the fact that I made some blackberry jam today....then I read this. sigh.

I know the baby steps are steps, but sometimes it feels we are so far from truly living sustainably.

I'm not feeling bad about it so much, because it is what it is. But there is this feeling of "am I ever going to get closer?" sometimes...especially when whacking at weeds rather than planting food.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Nothing wrong with a mower, exactly. Lawd knows, we used ours to death. And we didn't get to those figures overnight. And look at electricity for us.

But . . . it is interesting to know, yes?

eva said...

Thank You for this post. I never had guessed, we should need to cut 90% of our whole lifestyle. But somehow it`s more motivating than just cut 10 %, if you follow me. Being radical is somehow easier than just change couple of old habits.
I have to do some serious thinking about that, because we still live in city and we don`t have a backyard or garden here.
And I want to tell you that you can make baking powder yourself - it`s 1/2 part soda plus 1/2 part citric acid. Easy!
...Chocolate - I have no idea, how I could survive without it. I remember our childhood trick - we mixed cocoa powder, sugar and sour cream (yogurt). It gives a dessert, what tastes similar , but of course chocolate is in it`s own category, yes.
Thank You for your post!!!!!!!!!!

the Contrary Goddess said...

I'm thinking Eva that it is only us nasty North American's who need to cut the whole 90%. You could look at your numbers compared to average American numbers and that would be very interesting.

Wendy said...

I did our figures a while back. It was very interesting.

We use below average in everything except electricity. Interestingly, we homeschool and I work from home. I never considered adjusting our electrical usage from the "average" American to compensate for the fact that we don't use electricity as much elsewhere. Hmm?

I really like your take on most things. It's certainly not a "one size fits all" plan, but as you say, it's an "excellent thinking tool." I just hope enough people will consider making some change ... or that gas runs out and we can get about the business of figuring out how to live without the convenience of cheap oil :).

the Contrary Goddess said...

I've noticed as I surf around looking for people's reports of the Riot that not a whole lot of people actually report usage/waste in numbers. Interesting. Of course, I didn't manage to put numbers on everything either.

Fathairybastard said...

Sheesh, you put a LOT more thought into everything than I do.

Chile said...

Nice post, Contrary Goddess. It sounds like you've put a lot of hard work and thought into living a lifestyle close to the land. Thanks for sharing that with us. (And ren, I'm right there with you in terms of feeling like I'm personally still pretty far from living sustainably...)

the Contrary Goddess said...

Well, I'd say now's the time to move closer!

Teri said...

There was a time when my husband could cut all our wood with an axe. He's 57 now and has a torn rotator cuff that prevents him from lifting his left arm up beyond his chest. I've talked to him about getting a bow saw but he just does not see any way he will be able to use one. I don't know how we are going to get in wood for the winter. It's very easy to think that one should be able to do this or that. The unfortunate fact seems to be that you are less able to do some of these things as you get older. At some point, he will have problems moving the battery that we use for our power. I know that you are generalizing, but you might consider that there could be other reasons for using some modern conveniences.

the Contrary Goddess said...

And you might consider that there could be other reasons for things like torn rotator cuffs (and other ways to heal them) at 57. And I don't say that to be a smart-ass.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I thought I should say more, really, because I really do not mean that as a smart ass.

It seems to me that there is a population of people who, no matter what you say, say back to you, "well, everyone can't do that." Well, duh.

Everything is dynamic. But folks need to think of a few things. One is, I think everyone should actually run these numbers and see if they are energy/consumption hogs or not. They will be. Now what.

These numbers show me I'm an energy hog on electricity. What I do with that is up to me.

What those numbers don't show, and don't account for in any way, and where the whole 90% reduction thing falls flat, is production, contribution. It is not the same thing buying a potato and growing one.

Also, my grandfather broke his back, twice, in the mines. I am inspired by that. I choose as my role models health, vigor, robustness.

Eleutheros said...

Teri:"The unfortunate fact seems to be that you are less able to do some of these things as you get older."

I most earnestly misdoubt it. Your husband and are nearly of an age.

Scott Nearing, the quintessential homesteader of The Good Life fame, at 99 years of age cut the firewood with a bow saw that warmed him in his decline at 100. When my grandfather was 80, he had my father and I come help him cut fence posts to fence in part of his SW Virginia farm which was so steep it would give a billy goat a nose bleed. We called the next day to tell him we'd be over in a week to help him dig the post holes and stretch the wire. Don't bother, says he, he'd already done it by himself.

Said father earned his living as a commercial artist although he was so blind he could not see well enough to drive a car.

Two years ago I injured my right arm from using an orbital sander so badly that I could hardly do anything with it for 18 months. Wore a brace. In the mean time I learned to use even less modern devices such as spoke shaves and scraper blades to do the same task.

Injuries can make you weaker or stronger. Your choice.

Chile said...

Thanks, contrary goddess. We are actually taking steps to live more sustainably. (See my blog if you'd like.) We're learning new skills, acquiring more appropriate tools (manual), getting rid of clutter, and looking for a new home. BTW, you've inspired me to try planting some potatoes...