Riot for Austerity Footprint Calculator

In this blog and in my book, I talk about the Riot for Austerity a lot. It’s actually my core mission: To spark (or rather, to add fuel to, since it already exists) a grassroots movement of people who are voluntarily making radical reductions in their personal and household footprint.

I publish the target numbers, and explain the reasoning behind them, in my book. You can also find the target numbers and explanations at the intro on the Riot For Austerity Facebook Page and in the welcome files of the 90 Percent Reduction Yahoo email group.

Today, I’d like to share with you another outstanding resource, an online calculator that lets you calculate where you stand in each Riot category and overall. What’s great about having multiple categories is that even if you have trouble reducing in one category, you might find it quite easy to make reductions in another. Life circumstances change, and I find it helpful to revisit my Riot numbers at least once a month. I also pay attention to my daily blips (such as a rare shopping trip for new goods) and monthly/yearly blips, for example, three airplane trips this past year. Rather than wallow in guilt, I simply make reductions in other categories, and over time, with a few exceptions (see “airplane trips” above) have generally managed to hover at or near the overall target value of 10% of the average U.S. footprint.

I want you to use this calculator and enjoy it. Use it for inspiration and goal-setting, not guilting yourself. And join our online communities (both Facebook and Yahoo) to get lots of support and real-life examples from people all over the world, of how they are doing the Riot.

• Heartfelt thanks to Barbara at for this Riot for Austerity footprint calculator. It lets you quickly calculate your footprint in each Riot category, and your overall footprint averaged across all categories. (The snapshots at the top of this post show my values that I calculated just now.) Surf the rest of Barbara’s website as well; she’s got lots of excellent resources to support your footprint-reduction efforts.

Capsule Wardrobe

(My photo for you today may not appear to be related to the topic of this post, but bear with me! And a happy almost-December to you.)

A great way to reduce your footprint and free-up your headspace (and wallet!) is to implement a “Capsule Wardrobe.” It’s a wardrobe based around a small number of pieces that are durable, pair together well, and never go out of style. Over the years, particularly since moving to a super-humid, warm coastal area, I have gradually reduced the amount of clothes I am willing to keep around.

One of my best friends, CB, would say he has a natural capsule wardrobe. He is a no-fuss guy who gets by fine with a few t-shirts, shorts & jeans and a couple of nice shirts for special occasions. A lot of guys I know are just naturally like this.

For us women, it can be a bit more tricky because we like our fashion! I satisfy that “fashion” urge by having a variety of earrings and necklaces (mostly homemade or thrift-bought). They take up little space, they can even double as home decorations, and unlike piles of clothes in a humid climate, they don’t go moldy in the closet!

My core pieces are a couple of pairs of 3/4-length stretch leggings that are slightly flared at the bottom, a pair of stretchy slightly flared long pants, a short skirt and a midcalf-length skirt. All of these pieces are stretchy and black. (Though I sometimes think of changing my base color to olive green. Black can feel a bit harsh here in bright sunny beachside Florida.) And I have three pairs of socks and a pair of footless tights, all black also.

For tops, I have two long-sleeve stretch tops, one orange and one periwinkle blue; and an assortment of four or five tank tops (I buy them used at the thrift shop and when they wear out, which usually a couple do wear out every year, I turn them into household cleaning rags). I also have about five t-shirts, from various community events, but do not consider them essential to my wardrobe.

Other than underwear, that’s pretty much it. Most of my wardrobe would fit into a couple of milk crates. Almost everything is either thrifted or hand-me-down from friends who didn’t want stuff. The 3/4-length stretch leggings which a friend no longer wanted are amazing! This style lets me fully live my everyday life, getting around by bicycle etc., while still being able to create a put-together look. I have a personal preference for the slightly flared bottom, but there are lots of other options available. I doubt that stretch leggings will ever go out of style. (If they do, I’ll just have to be unfashionable!)

Now, about today’s photo. It shows my Christmas decorations. Micro-style, the way I roll! The cedar sprigs that form my “Christmas tree” double as an earring-stand, rendering my holiday earrings easily accessible. In other words, the “ornaments” on the “tree” are actually my holiday earrings (of which I’ve received a few pairs over the years as gifts). Including two pairs that are actually made to look like classic lightweight metal Christmas ornaments. I can just grab a pair of earrings off the “tree” and head out to a neighborhood holiday party or what have you. (The cedar sprigs came from the tree in my yard, which I recently had a branch trimmed off of so the cedar tree could better share space with its “buddy,” a palm tree growing right next to it.)

• LyndseyStripped, a zero-waste lifestyle blog based in Wales, has a nice article on how she put together her autumn capsule wardrobe. Her website is very visually attractive and offers good tips for living low-footprint without sacrificing style.
• And another style-related post on LyndseyStripped, this one about plastic-free/zero-waste cosmetics packaging. She has some good recommendations. I generally don’t wear makeup these days, but may choose to at some point in the future and it is good to have options and offer you some. The refillable bamboo packaging of one brand is really pretty as well as functional.
(As a bonus, the makeup post starts out with these words that sum up my approach to promoting a low-footprint lifestyle craze: “I think advocating a sustainable lifestyle is all about the ripple effect. If I harp on about it enough then something I say will strike a chord with someone. Then they might start harping on about that. And something THEY say might strike a chord with someone else. Then they might start harping on about that.”)

We Have 12 Years

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN
Urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty, says IPCC”

“‘It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,’ said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. ‘This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.'”

“At the current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming.” Reducing the warming to 2C would help some, and pulling together to achieve a further reduction to 1.5C of warming would make a surprisingly huge difference in extreme weather events, heat-related deaths, wildlife, crop yields, and more, according to scientific findings presented in the article.

October 8, 2018, article in The Guardian

This article offers a link to another Guardian article, Overwhelmed By Climate Change? Here’s What You Can Do. To their solid list that includes both personal and collective actions (from reducing meat & dairy intake and insulating your home, to voting and protesting), I would add what I’m trying to do here, with this book and my blog: Create a widespread, permanent craze for ultra-low-footprint living.

Deep-green troops, mobilize! What green practices can you help normalize and popularize today?

It’s Down To Us

The possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist.”
— Bill McKibben, writing in this week’s issue of The New Yorker magazine (November 26 issue).

Says McKibben:

We are on a path to self-destruction, and yet there is nothing inevitable about our fate. Solar panels and wind turbines are now among the least expensive ways to produce energy. Storage batteries are cheaper and more efficient than ever. We could move quickly if we chose to, but we’d need to opt for solidarity and coördination on a global scale. The chances of that look slim. In Russia, the second-largest petrostate after the U.S., Vladimir Putin believes that “climate change could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance.” Saudi Arabia, the third-largest petrostate, tried to water down the recent I.P.C.C. report. Jair Bolsonaro, the newly elected President of Brazil, has vowed to institute policies that would dramatically accelerate the deforestation of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest. Meanwhile, Exxon recently announced a plan to spend a million dollars—about a hundredth of what the company spends each month in search of new oil and gas—to back the fight for a carbon tax of forty dollars a ton. …
The possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist.

It’s down to us, folks. We make the Zeitgeist; we can shift it with our daily choices. We, in our millions, choosing to radically reduce our footprint, consciously adopting ultra-low-footprint lifestyles, are the best hope of saving life as we know it on this planet.

Further Reading:

The New Yorker magazine offers thoughtful, nuanced coverage of social issues, politics, and culture.
• Author, educator, environmentalist Bill McKibben is author of numerous books including Deep Economy, Eaarth, The End of Nature, Fight Global Warming Now, and Radio Free Vermont.

Footprint and Handprint

One question I hear from a lot of people is: What if I just can’t reduce my footprint any more, or if I can’t reduce it at all in some category? (For example, say you live far from where you work, and there’s no way to reduce your transportation footprint right now because no one lives near you to carpool?)

The fact is, it’s impossible to have a zero footprint. We are always going to have some impact on other creatures. Even carefully walking through my yard this morning, I was surely stepping on bugs or other creatures without even knowing it.

We may not be able to eliminate our negative impact (footprint), but we can always increase our positive impact (handprint).

When an environmental activist decides to forgo flying halfway around the world for a climate protest because she feels that the footprint of her plane travel will exceed the benefit of her physical presence at the protest, she’s reducing her footprint. When 10 or 20 or 100 environmentalists get together and pool the money they would have spent on airline tickets and use it to purchase a compelling call-to-action ad in a high-profile magazine, they increase their handprint. (I haven’t actually heard of something like this happening, but wouldn’t it be a great idea with a lot of potential?)

When you decide to stop driving your child two hours to a play date, that’s reducing your footprint. When you go with your kids for walks around the neighborhood and show them by your example how to make friends right in their own backyard, that’s increasing your handprint.

When you stop purchasing plastic-wrapped produce from 3,000 miles away, and say no to plastic bags at the supermarket checkout, you’re reducing your footprint. When other people see your pretty cloth shopping bags and your smiling face as you walk to the farmer’s market to buy local, you’re increasing your handprint.

When I use my solar oven instead of my electric oven, I’m reducing my footprint. (By the way, I’ve been using a solar oven as my main oven since 2006!) When passers-by see my solar oven out in the yard, or when I tell people about the many benefits of solar cooking, I’m increasing my handprint.

An action to increase your handprint can be something eco-oriented, but need not be. For example, teaching self-defense to kids; volunteering at a shelter; setting up a Little Free Library in your neighborhood; organizing a community potluck to build social cohesion and increase the safety of your neighborhood, are all examples of increasing your handprint. So are organizing a poetry open mic; forming a citizens’ art brigade to paint inspirational murals on blighted buildings; writing songs to highlight the plight of the homeless. Speaking up at city council meetings; writing letters to the editor. Even just smiling at someone in passing, rather than walking by quickly without making eye contact, is increasing your handprint. Every action, however infinitesimal, adds up and has a ripple effect.

Everything you do to reduce your footprint frees up money, time, and headspace to be able to increase your handprint. So, reducing your footprint is a double win. You conserve resources, and you free yourself to maximize your beneficial impact on the world.

How many examples of handprint can you think of from your own life?

Gratitude, and the Upside of “Not Having”

This old family photo, taken one Thanksgiving about 70 years ago, is one of my favorites. Those were simple times when people didn’t have much, but I can feel everyone’s joy and gratitude spilling right out of the picture.

This past Sunday as I was riding my bicycle home from church, where the sermon was about gratitude, I came upon my favorite pine tree, a really pretty, towering specimen with long soft needles. Not only is it a beautiful tree; it also sheds regularly, providing me with great mulch for my yard. As is my habit, I grabbed handfuls of the pine needles that had collected in the gutter, and stuffed into my bicycle panniers as many as would fit.

Many Sundays as I’m riding to or from church along that long road, I see curbside treasure such as huge piles of leaves; furniture; plants; lumber; piles and piles of bamboo poles. Many times I have regretted not having a bicycle trailer. Then again, when I look back over the months and years that I have NOT been able to pick up stuff because I didn’t have a way to carry it home, it comes to me that if I had picked up all the stuff I thought I wanted, my house would be crammed with junk.

And when I look back, I can’t really remember all the stuff that was so great I just thought I absolutely needed it. One of my favorite quotes, by ultralight hiker Ray Jardine (of Ray-Way Tarp fame), comes to mind: “If you need it, but don’t have it … you don’t need it.” There are advantages to NOT being able to carry home everything.

Along with my haul of precious mulch, I also carried home plenty of gratitude. Our pastor had spoken about the “market gods” and how they fuel our desire for more, more, more — and how it never ends up being enough. My favorite antidote to that insatiable feeling is to deliberately feel gratitude in the moment. Gratitude turns whatever I have into more than enough.

Back when I lived in an RV, every little inch of space was a gift. Sometimes I’d free up a couple centimeters of space, and it would really feel like miles and miles of Texas! (I was living in Texas at the time, and would often break out into a joyous chorus of “Miles and Miles of Texas” when I’d discover some unused inch of space here or there in the RV.) This joy at a small thing is a huge feeling.

One time on a solo bicycle trip from Austin to New Mexico, I found myself at a roadside rest stop with leftover french fries from a diner lunch, and half a bottle of Gatorade from my afternoon snack stop. Plus a couple of Little Debbie snack cakes. Tasted like a five-star supper to me! Later as I crawled into my sleeping bag, with only a tarp underneath — no cushion from the concrete ground — I felt like a queen sinking into the finest featherbed.

By no means do I always feel this way. Oftentimes it’s the total opposite, in fact! I can be in luxurious circumstances, eating fancy food, having other people do everything for me, and still feel restless and unsatisfied. In fact, many times it actually ends up being easier for me to feel gratitude over simple things than over something luxurious and amazing. Maybe some sort of spoiled-brat reflex kicks in beyond a certain level of richness.

Gratitude is something I have to put conscious effort into at times, but it’s an investment that pays off in cascading dividends. I would really like for gratitude and appreciation to become more prevalent in USAmerican culture. I’d like to see us, as a people, have the ability to be more content with less. And that would be good for the planet also.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle …

Most of us are familiar with these 3 R’s of minimizing waste. Just now on the Sustainable Living & Alternative Health radio show on WMNF (Tampa FL), I heard two more R’s: REFUSE; and RETHINK. (As in Refuse disposable plastic bags at the supermarket checkout. And, further upstream, Rethink the whole design of things including the flow from production to disposal, so we “close the loop” and stop producing “waste”.) Ideally we humans will come around to eliminating entirely the concept of “waste,” since in nature everything is a resource.

One trick I’ve been doing lately with the recycling is to not put the bin out for collection every week unless it gets full (which it rarely does that quickly unless I have a party). By keeping it around for a couple or three weeks, I give myself a “reuse buffer” — an opportunity to retrieve containers that I end up thinking of a use for. One housemate’s microwave food containers ended up getting upcycled into caddies for art supplies and toiletries. Sometimes I’ve ended up using takeout dishes to mix paint.

The Sustainable Living & Alternative Health radio show airs every Monday from 10:00-11:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. It’s actually two different shows, on alternating Mondays. Today is a Sustainable Living day. The show is superb and I recommend it to greenminded people everywhere who really want to push the envelope of what it means to be sustainable. You can listen to a recording of today’s show and other past shows; I believe they leave them up on the website for about a month. Several of my permaculture colleagues were on today, and they did an outstanding job conveying the essence of permaculture design and the permaculture movement.