welcome to my deep-green blog!

This blog is dedicated to low-footprint living. Can you imagine what would happen if millions of people voluntarily reduced their carbon footprint by 90% or more? The impact would be similar to that of the household austerity measures imposed during World War II, except that this time we’d be doing it voluntarily. And instead of channeling our time, money, and energy toward a war effort, we’d be working toward a shared global aim of restoring the earth’s ecosystems, and preserving our life and wellbeing on this beautiful planet. A grassroots green mobilization!

Does living at 10% of the average U.S. footprint sound unrealistic or uncomfortable to you? The truth is, lots of us are already doing it, or are well on our way. And in the process of reducing our footprints, we’re putting money in our pockets, and freeing up our time and energy for the things that give life meaning (which of course differ from one person to the next).

And not only is it not uncomfortable (beyond a bit of manageable discomfort here and there), it’s fun!

At its root, a low-footprint lifestyle is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if planetary concerns were not a factor. In this blog I share a wealth of tips and resources to help you design your own version of a low-footprint lifestyle, or, if you’re already on this path, to go further than you’ve ever gone before.

Thank you for being here!

Exotic Fruit from Far Away

In the United States, a lot of our food comes from thousands of miles away. Instead of having to eat in season (or should I say getting to eat in season, since local produce in season is so tasty), we’ve become used to being able to get any kind of produce year-round: pears from Chile; strawberries from Argentina; spinach from across the country.

A great way to reduce your eco-footprint is to get as much of your diet from locally grown/raised sources as possible. I grow a bit of my own greens and herbs, and also buy from local farmers at our weekly farmer’s market.

Still, I like to treat myself to something exotic sometimes. Here in Florida, apples are exotic. They usually come from Wisconsin or New Hampshire … or, when it’s summertime in the northern hemisphere, they come from South America or New Zealand. I don’t buy apples at the supermarket except on rare occasions.

But in wintertime, we get a treat at our farmer’s market, because one of the vendors is a guy who has an orchard up in Wisconsin. He comes down here every winter to sell his wares. Since he stays for the winter and he’d be coming here anyway, I don’t feel like I’m adding food miles to my eco-footprint.

It’s great to pick out a mixed bag of richly flavorful apples for $1.25 a pound: Jonagold, Fuji, Yellow Delicious and Red Delicious (which are so much sweeter than the ones sold at supermarkets), and many other varieties. The bag of apples pictured here was my exotic treat for today’s shopping trip!

Of course, now delicious grapefruits and other citrus are coming into season, so we have an abundance of produce from right here in Florida too.

Apples are exotic here in Florida, and it would be out of the question to try to grow them here. At least that’s what I always thought! Just now, out of curiosity, I googled “Can apples grow in Florida” and sure enough, the UF-IFAS site is Johnny on the spot (or should I say Jonagold on the spot!), offering a list of apple varieties that can be persuaded to grow in parts of central and north Florida. To produce fruit, the trees need 300 to 400 hours below 45F during the winter.

Caring What People Think

This past weekend at the Florida Permaculture Convergence, with 150+ other people, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Greenfield and hearing him speak. Now THIS is a guy with a low footprint! At the moment he’s engaged in an experiment in which he has pledged to eat only what he grows or forages himself. Compared with Rob’s adventurous life, my “10% footprint” lifestyle in a conventional dwelling is downright cushy! It’s great to hear about people who are practicing a low-footprint life in a more extreme, or just different, way.

One of my takeaways from Rob’s talk is how much time and energy we spend caring about what other people think. Our eco actions and voluntary sacrifices aren’t that onerous physically, compared with the burden of “caring about appearances” and living in fear of violating the norms of conventional mainstream society.

I had one such moment last night, at a neighborhood holiday party. I had brought my own dishes and utensils to avoid using plastic disposables. This is something I do all the time, and usually people either don’t notice, or they think “What a good idea, maybe I’ll do that next time.”

However, last night was different. The people at my table had a strong reaction, could not understand why I had brought my own eating utensils and dishes. Instead of just explaining, I went into a shame-spiral and felt stupid and self-conscious, and tucked my stuff away out of sight. I ended up moving to a different table, and also ended up using the provided disposable plate (though I did use my bamboo eating utensils). The plates were compostable paper, so I felt more OK using one than if they had been plastic. And at the end of the evening I collected other people’s used plates to bring home to my compost bin. Still, it felt like a loss.

In retrospect, the way I went about bringing my own dishes to that particular party was unattractive. I had my dishes sitting on the table in a really conspicuous way that was just screaming for negative attention. Part of the problem was that they were stainless steel camp dishes, and looked out of place in the setting. Next time I’ll be a little more considerate of my social environment and won’t have to be as visually obtrusive.

For example, I could have brought a small plain white reusable plate from my kitchen cabinet, instead of the stainless-steel camp dishes that fit right in at permaculture convergences and my UU church potlucks, but stuck out like a sore thumb at my neighborhood holiday gathering.

Or, maybe more important, I could have made sure I set out from my house feeling attractive and self-confident, and then I could have explained my dishes in a matter-of-fact way with a radiant smile and gone about enjoying the party.

While we can’t allow ourselves to be consumed by caring what people think, there is a degree of social consideration that not only is basic courtesy to other people, but also serves the “cause.” Last night I lost an opportunity to be an attractive ambassador for low-footprint living. Lesson learned!

An important aspect of being an attractive ambassador for low-footprint living (or any other cause) is cultivating a consistent self-confidence. I don’t always have it in social settings, and that sometimes interferes with my ability to be an attractive influence.

If you want to meet someone who radiates self-confidence and is totally out there (he even went around dressed head to toe in trash, to show how much trash people living a typical U.S. lifestyle generate!), check out Rob Greenfield’s website. Though Rob’s footprint is far lower than mine, I have the feeling he never fails to be an attractive ambassador of low-footprint living. Gracious, engaging, knowledgeable, and able to bring humor to a serious subject, he has touched lives all over the world. His talk at the Convergence has given me a booster-shot of courage regarding my own choices (a really helpful thing since I sometimes second-guess my “extreme” choices, which are really only extreme in the context of a hyper-consumerist mainstream society). On his site, you can check out his TEDx Talk “Be The Change in the Messed Up World,” and read all about his projects and adventures.

Good News Nuggets

For me, the tough part of striving for an ultra-low-footprint life isn’t the physical part; that tends to be pretty trivial. (Summer without a/c in Florida is hot, big deal. Remembering to bring a cloth shopping bag and reusable cup with me on my errands — no biggie. Doing errands by bicycle on a cold windy day — yuck, but doable and I can even talk myself into enjoying it. And so on.)

What’s a bigger deal is this feeling of going up against a huge force of prevailing cultural norms. The mainstream current is strong! That’s why I find it helpful to tap into other, more eco-friendly currents that are gaining strength. Not only is it encouraging to me on my path; it also sometimes gives me new connections and communities to get involved in, and useful tips to share with my community.

I hope you find good news helpful to you on your low-footprint path too! Here are a couple of tidbits for you:

An RV park in Orlando has turned itself into a tiny-house community. The existing RV residents are still living there, and new RVers are welcome too. And in addition, gorgeous tiny houses are being built! The community has a total of 50 spaces, and there’s a waiting list for longterm residence. AirBnB short stays are an option also, not only for vacationers but also for people who are considering permanently moving there and want to try it out first. This is a hint for other cities: If you build a place like this, it’ll fill quickly. And if you market it properly as these guys have, you’ll attract the kind of residents who tend to be good citizens. What a win-win: 1) affordably priced housing for students, seniors, and others who might not otherwise be able to find a good place to live; 2) dense settlement reduces social isolation; 3) low-footprint living option: reduced automobile-dependency, increased opportunities for neighbors to share resources, etc.; 4) quality of life: easy access to nature and public transport; 5) brings together a mix of longterm residents and visitors, creating a socially vibrant community.

• Landscaping with native plants is gaining a foothold in a major retirement community! When I think of retirement communities, I usually think of excruciatingly manicured shrubbery, poisonously green lawns, and rigidly conformist HOA rules (that cause a lot of environmental damage). But I just learned that The Villages, a huge retirement community of 115,000 in Florida, has its own chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The Villages chapter of FNPS states its Chapter Vision as, “The Villages becomes renowned for its extensive use of native plants and award winning native plant landscapes.” And from the photos I see on their site, they are making serious progress! They have been very successful at promoting native plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, require little or no irrigation, and can be maintained chemical-free, while still allowing folks to maintain that manicured look that has become so entrenched in U.S. mainstream culture. (It’s easier sometimes to try to work with that aesthetic than try to change it). If there’s hope for a place as huge and official as The Villages, there’s hope for your HOA! Check out the Villages website and also the main Florida Native Plant Society website for inspiration, and consider joining or founding your own chapter of a native plant society, whichever state you call home.

• “Native Plant Landscaping in Managed Communities,” article in the print edition of Guide for Real Florida Gardeners. The print edition of this highly informative magazine, which contains many helpful ads for native-savvy landscapers and nurseries, is widely distributed in Florida. A free online subscription option is offered on the website.

Dear Reader: Are You Experiencing Problems With This Site?

My web-hosting service has sent me a second notice that this site is having issues, hitting up against the limits of its server capacity. (UPDATE: The site is fine now. Turns out the issues were minor in the first place, and they have been resolved. Still, if you should ever experience difficulty with this site, let me know so I can try to fix it!)

I’m looking into this matter with the kind & helpful tech support folks, and am not anticipating any long-term problems. In the meantime, you can help me by letting me know if you’ve experienced problems loading the site. This includes the webpage being down, or just loading slowly, or anything else you notice that seems out of the ordinary and/or hinders your experience.

Best way to contact me is by email +jnazak* at% yahoo& dot# com* – take out the symbols. Thank you for helping me make this site the best it can be for you, my cherished readers and friends!

On a more positive note, I just got back from the sixth annual Florida Permaculture Convergence and have lots of great resources to share. Stay tuned!

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 greenknowe.org 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?