welcome to my deep-green blog!

This blog is dedicated to low-footprint living. A lot of people care about the environment and truly want to be green, but find it hard and impractical. I’m here to assure you: If you’re finding it burdensome, it just means you’re going about it in a way that’s not right for you. Same goes if you find yourself experiencing a pervasive feeling of guilt. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re probably either being too hard on yourself, or just need some additional support resources you haven’t yet heard about. (That’s why I’m here!) Ready to simplify your life, put money in your pocket, free up your time, and be able to focus more on the things that really matter to you? Try deep-green living!

Long story short, I’m passionate about the environment and have found some great resources for living an extremely low footprint without sacrificing quality of life. In fact, most people find that this lifestyle greatly improves their quality of life. In this blog I aim to show you that a deep-green lifestyle is indeed VERY achievable, practical, and life-enriching, as opposed to being some extraordinary feat of self-sacrifice.

Enjoy my blog. I really hope you get value from it, and I thank you for being here.

A “Society of Distracted Drivers”

“If we were indeed paying attention, what would we do differently? We would make sustainability — real sustainability, not just eco-groovy gestures — our first priority. … What’s so hard about that? Really, the most difficult aspect of this shift is the initial decision to make it. And once that decision has been made, plenty of improvements to daily life would likely accompany any sacrifices we’d have to make. For example, imagine how a more mindful economy would allow people to pursue their callings instead of just chasing jobs. Or consider how leading less busy lives would allow more time to spend with loved ones.”

Wise words from Richard Heinberg of Post Carbon Institute, in an article posted on resilience.org (originally published by Common Dreams).

If you really want to get motivated to reduce your footprint, focus on the “quality of life” aspect!

Confession: This blog may be an eco-fail!

I’ve made it a mission to live a low-footprint life and motivate others to do so. But alas, sometimes it turns out that the best advice I have to offer is, DON’T do as I do!

As one example, I’m learning that my blog and website may have a large eco-footprint. Yikes! Awkward and embarrassing, given that I’ve set myself up as a source of information on green living and in fact had just written a post about online footprint!

The fact is, it’s something that’s happened more than I care to admit: I come to find out that something I’m doing isn’t eco-friendly. But, learning and improving is what life is all about, right? So when I find out I’m doing something destructive, I set about changing it as best I can. (Of course this applies to life in general, not just eco-footprint. More times than I can count, I’ve been faced with the unpleasant realization that something I’m saying or doing is having a negative impact on other people and the world. It’s a hard realization but is the first step to effecting necessary change.)

Regarding the eco-footprint of this website, I’m learning that I may be consuming a huge amount of bandwidth unnecessarily. I’ve just opened up a conversation with my hosting service, Dreamhost, to find out how I can reduce the footprint of this site while still effectively conveying the content I’m setting out to share with you.

By the way, Dreamhost are great folks, and I’m going to take this opportunity to put in a plug for them. I recommend Dreamhost for three main reasons:

1) Trouble-free operations: I have never, in the 10+ years I’ve used Dreamhost for web hosting and domain name service, had a problem that was caused on their end.

2) Excellent customer service: And for the problems on my end, I recommend Dreamhost because of their highly responsive and expert customer service. The articles on Dreamhost’s website on how to reduce bandwidth go way over my head; they’re written for users who actually know about things like Java and CSS and PHP, as opposed to merely knowing the words which is the level I’m at. But the Dreamhost tech support people are very skilled at adapting their advice to a person’s level of expertise. It may take some back-and-forth for me to get a handle on my bandwidth problem, but with the help of tech support, I’m confident I’ll be able to resolve it.

3) Green operations, green attitude: I’ve just found out that Dreamhost does a lot to maintain green operations at its offices and server centers. This extends not only to buildings and equipment but also to the work environment itself. They’ve got extensive recycling, and they even have composting onsite. They use ceramic cups, plates, and “real silverware” only; no disposables. They have a generous work-from-home policy, and offer financial incentives for employees to use public transport.

It’s reassuring to know that, while my blog and website may need some major eco-remediation, at least my web-hosting company is green! I’ll let you know as I find out more about the scope of the problem (it may be as simple as deleting unnecessary photos and resizing some others), and will keep you informed of my progress.

(And, if you’re looking for a web-hosting service, be sure and check out Dreamhost! Even if you’re not currently looking for a web-hosting service, their site contains a lot of valuable information for anyone who’s sharing content online. And it’s a pleasure to read.)

On a more general note, part of my point in this post is that if you learn that some aspect of your life isn’t very eco-friendly, please don’t despair, even if you can’t address it right away. No one is perfect; it’s a journey rather than a destination; and we can all learn from each other.

The Value of Reducing Your Overhead

Good, down-to-earth advice based on wisdom and experience is something I always appreciate. When I hear such advice from two very different sources, I’m even more inclined to sit up and take notice.

A piece of advice that made a big impression on me was, “Reduce your need to earn.” I heard this back in 2005 from Scott Pittman, of the U.S. Permaculture Institute, who taught the two-week course in Santa Fe, NM, where I earned my first Permaculture Design Certificate.

I just loved that phrase! And often over the years I’ve encountered the same advice worded differently from a variety of sources, including successful corporate executives. The other day, reading a business leadership book (I read a lot of those — they’re great reading not just for business but for life!), I came across the following:

Many young leaders are tempted to take high-salaried jobs to pay off loans or build their savings, even if they have no interest in the work and do not intend to stay. They believe that after ten years they can move on to do the work they love. Yet many become so dependent on maintaining a certain lifestyle that they get trapped in jobs where they are demotivated and unhappy. Locked into the high-income/high-expense life, they cannot afford to do work they love. Ironically, not one of the leaders interviewed would up taking a position predicated upon establishing wealth early so they they could later pursue roles they would enjoy.

Excellent advice, from TRUE NORTH – Discover Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill George with Peter Sims.

I’d actually been practicing this principle for years without fully realizing what I was doing. Long before I took that life-changing Permaculture Design Certificate course, I had reduced my financial overhead to the point where I only had to work a few hours a week to cover my expenses. The rest of the time was free to develop business ideas, make art, connect with friends, ponder solutions to world problems, get out in nature. And, perhaps most importantly, have ample time and headspace to tune in to my inner voice.

Anytime I hear of someone who “can’t afford” to do the work they really want to do; can’t afford to travel; can’t afford to take courses; can’t afford to live the way they want to live; or just plain can’t figure out what they want in life … my first advice is always, “Reduce your overhead. Reduce your need to earn.”

This advice applies doubly to people who are passionate about the environment. Reducing our overhead not only helps us personally; it helps the planet. People with low overhead and simple needs tend to have a much lower eco-footprint. And, they have more free time and headspace to ponder solutions to our collective problems.

Want to improve your life and reduce your footprint in short order? Reduce your need to earn! Note, this is different from saying “Cut your earnings. Deprive yourself. Embrace poverty, be poor, live on the edge.”

No, what I’m talking about is reducing your NEED to earn.

Or, in other words: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Those words are from Henry David Thoreau (a real master of low-footprint living large!).

A really far-out example of this principle is Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher who supposedly dwelt in an urn. Now THAT would reduce a person’s housing costs! A very low-footprint life, with few possessions other than his drinking cup. But one day, Diogenes came upon a young boy who didn’t even have a cup, and simply drank water out of his hands. Seeing this, Diogenes tossed his own cup away.

Most of us prefer to own cups, and at least a bit of other stuff besides. But almost all of us can benefit ourselves, and help the planet, by reducing our need to earn.

For your further encouragement, I give you two present-day real-life examples of highly successful small businesses that were started by people who’d just had the seemingly disastrous experience of losing their steady, high-paying jobs:

The Soup Peddler, Austin TX: started out as a one-man bicycle-based business delivering jars of homemade soup; grew into multiple storefront locations

Kale Café Juice Bar & Vegan Cuisine, Daytona Beach FL: started out as a booth at a farmers’ market; now has multiple storefronts

Electronic Decluttering: Online Footprint (Part 2)

(Part 2 of a 2-part post)

Internet use has a very large energy footprint. Most of that energy is consumed by remote servers and other equipment, making it complicated for everyday people to calculate their personal internet footprint. In this post I share some simple tips for reducing your online footprint, without having to perform any calculations or track down any numbers.

***IMPORTANT NOTE:Online footprint is a work in progress for me, and I’m finding out I may be one of the worst offenders! I’m learning that this blog and website may have a huge footprint, which of course is unintended. I am now looking into the scope of the problem, and how to address it.***

According to some experts, internet use now accounts for as large a share of the world’s carbon footprint as airline flight! As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the internet infrastructure industry can reduce its footprint considerably by eliminating inefficiencies; for example, servers running when they don’t need to.

But the real power lies in our personal everyday choices. So how can we as everyday people do our part to reduce the internet’s footprint? How do we even calculate our share of it? The electricity used to power our household computers and devices is a tiny drop in the bucket. Most of the energy cost of the uploading, downloading, streaming, and cloud storage we do is external and invisible to us.

One Riot for Austerity member suggested that we use online time (hours per day) as a measure of our internet footprint. For a starting point, I googled and found:

The average American spends 24 hours a week online, says Technology Review. This is up from 9.4 hours a week in 2000. 17.6 of those hours are at home, up from just 3.3 hours a week in 2000.

Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, according to CNN. But this includes non-internet devices such as TVs too.

I spend an average of 5 to 7 hours a day on the internet. Probably 90% of that time is related to my work. Since I don’t have a TV or DVD player, all of my screen time is laptop or smartphone.

In the past few days, since starting to focus on the topic of online footprint, I’ve cut my actual internet-connected time to about 3-4 hours a day just by being more deliberate: I disconnect the wireless connection unless I’m actually doing something such as uploading a blog post, or interacting on Facebook. I’m experimenting with composing blog posts offline. I really notice how much online time I was using just gazing and surfing idly, or hitting the refresh button.

Another possible measure of internet footprint is how much cloud storage we are using. KOOFR, a cloud-storage company, posted an article on how much cloud storage an average person might want. KOOFR says 10GB will be enough for about a year — assuming you only want to back up the photos you’re taking with your phone, and that you upload an average of just 3 photos per day and one 1-minute video per week. Obviously some of us do a lot more than that! The KOOFR article also has a handy chart showing the storage requirements of various kinds of files including movies, music files, documents, and ebooks.

I don’t have any of my devices backed up to the cloud (I use memory sticks to back up crucial files), but of course my blog and YouTube channel live on the cloud, as does my Facebook and other social-media presence, and some email messages. I’m currently in the process of calculating the cloud storage used by this blog, and by my YouTube channel.

And yet another measure of our internet footprint is the bandwidth we are using. If you have a data plan on your smartphone, and that data plan has a limit, it should be pretty easy to know roughly how much bandwidth is being consumed by your uploading, downloading, and streaming activities. I haven’t yet determined whether there’s a similar way to find the total for a laptop or other computer.

As for how much electricity our online habits are using, this paper from ACEEE reports that “the Internet uses an average of about 5 kWh to support the utilization of every GB of data.”

It’s hard to know exactly how many gigs we’re consuming, since most of the consumption is externalized. The paper goes on to say, “Only 38% of those costs are borne by the end-user, while the remaining costs are thinly spread over the global Internet through which the data travels; in switches, routers, signal repeaters, servers, and data centers … This creates a societal ‘tragedy of the commons,’ where end users have little incentive to consider the other 62% of costs and associated resources.”

Powerful stuff, literally! Huge potential for footprint reduction.

Based on my research so far, here are a few suggestions for reducing your internet footprint:

– Set out to cut the number of hours you spend online per day. Think about what you would most like MORE of in your life: more time, feeling more focused and less distracted, being more present with others, spending less time sitting down and more time moving around — and with those goals in mind, you’ll find it easier to reduce online time.
– Close browser tabs when you’re not actively using a site (this affected my computer RAM usage, and affects streaming bandwidth as well).
– Be very deliberate and selective about your consumption of videos and other high-bandwidth media. Even in the case of content that you consider really worthwhile, try just reading the transcript (if available) rather than watching the video. Some people actually find this faster and retain the information better.
– Invite others to watch media with you – spread the footprint over more people! This also helps alleviate another major problem associated with our long hours in front of electronic screens, namely, loneliness and isolation.
– Some apps and sites, such as YouTube, allow users to set video viewing quality. Choose the lowest possible resolution.
– Have an “Internet Sabbath” day. I’ve been doing this on Sundays for awhile and the world hasn’t come crashing down.
– Turn off router and modem at night, or whenever you usually sleep. I’ve found this helpful because I used to be one of those people who would reach for her smartphone as soon as she woke up in the morning, or couldn’t sleep at night, etc. Nowadays, I go outside and look at the moon til I get sleepy again. Or count sheep or whatever. Or sometimes enjoy a realtime chat with one of my night-owl friends who I wouldn’t usually get to talk with!
– Decide to refrain from taking your smartphone or other device with you to certain places, such as church, restaurants, social evenings at friends’ houses, etc. Or if you have to take it with you, keep it turned off.
– Cut the data plan from your smartphone. I sharply reduced my internet use a few years back when I did this to save money. I used to check email and social-media sites constantly; now I can only do it when I have a wifi connection. It felt strange at first but I soon got used to it and enjoyed suddenly having hours of free time (as well as saving about $40 a month).
– Whatever reductions you pursue, take care that they don’t end up increasing your overall footprint and defeating the purpose. For example, if you start to take a lot more long-distance trips to visit friends and family as a result of quitting Facebook, or if you end up missing out on work opportunities because you dropped off the radar of your online communities, that’d be something to look at.

A final suggestion: If you’re using the internet for work, social activism, civic engagement, connecting with loved ones, and other beneficial purposes, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Do what you reasonably can to reduce your footprint, but also recognize that the internet is a tool of modern life, and it’s done a lot of good to spread social movements and help people stay connected. And it’s expanded the possibilities for teleworking! Rather than quit Facebook, stop blogging, and so on, we’d do better to boost the QUALITY of our online time in terms of emotional wellbeing, beneficial impact on other people, and so on.

A couple of examples from my own life:

• Not having an internet connection at home could be an option for me someday, but I’d have to write a lot offline and then go to a public wireless network to upload a batch of material all at once. That would take discipline and might improve the quality of my work — or it might just make life inconvenient and I’d end up posting less, thus limiting my ability to support people in their efforts to reduce their footprint.

• I may delete my YouTube channel. For the moment, pending further research, I’m simply suspending new uploads to my channel. The videos take a lot of energy (my personal energy, not just fossil), and the quality is less than professional. I suspect that my writing and my in-person education services are reaching people more effectively. But I could find out that I’m mistaken.

The Riot for Austerity sets targets for reducing one’s consumption by 90% of the U.S. average in various categories such as electricity, water, gasoline, and consumer purchases. No Riot category exists for internet usage. Calculating the U.S. average and setting targets for online footprint will be new terrain.

I’ll let you know what else I find out about my internet footprint, and how my reduction experiments go. Research I still need to do: Calculate the footprint of this blog, and also of my YouTube channel. My blog webhosting service, Dreamhost, has first-rate tech support, and I’ll let you know what I hear back from them after I email them with my various questions.

Also, I invite you to keep me posted on your journey! I apologize for the inconvenience of not allowing comments on this blog, but comment-spam takes so much time and energy to deal with (even with a spam filter), I’ve decided to keep comments turned off at least for now. I look forward to your emails though.

Further Reading:
Internet Energy Consumption Report from ACEEE: “This paper is a thought-piece on the how’s and why’s of end-to-end, IT energy use. It will pursue questions like: What type of equipment is used to get a MB from the data-center to your desktop? Is multi-tabbed browsing the IT equivalent of leaving the refrigerator door open? How much energy does it use? How much does it cost; and who pays for it?”

Greenpeace article on how much energy the various video-streaming services use, and the percentages of renewable energy that power them.

Article on bandwidth of video-streaming services vs. audio: video-streaming takes up much more bandwidth than audio-only music-streaming. This article shares ways for users to control their bandwidth consumption (which, depending on your data plan, can help save your wallet as well as the planet!)

Electronic Decluttering: Online Footprint

(Part 1 of a 2-part post)

One of the more knowledgeable, longtime participants in the Riot for Austerity recently brought up the topic of online footprint. She pointed out that the energy cost of video streaming, cloud storage, high-data-usage platforms like Facebook, and so on is far more than people realize.

She rightfully questioned why we were sitting around, ONLINE, discussing the pros and cons of replacing old refrigerators, while ignoring the footprint of our internet use.

The electricity required to charge and power our laptop computers and mobile devices is just a drop in the bucket. Most of the footprint of our internet usage is invisible to us as end-users. For example, there’s the constant maintenance and replacement of server equipment, the air-conditioning required to cool those vast banks of servers, and of course the electricity used by the equipment itself. Calculating one’s individual contribution to the total footprint of the internet is a bit tricky, but surely not impossible.

And, from an environmental standpoint, the matter is quite urgent: Data-center web servers, such as those used by Google and Facebook, contribute just about as much to greenhouse-gas emissions as air travel, the Guardian reports. The data-center sector and air travel each generate about 2% of the total volume of greenhouse gases.

And, IT as a whole now accounts for 10% of electricity use worldwide, according to this article in the Register. “Although charging up a single tablet or smart phone requires a negligible amount of electricity, using either to watch an hour of video weekly consumes annually more electricity in the remote networks than two new refrigerators use in a year.”

Yikes! Can it really be true that my one-hour video chat with a friend in faraway Tokyo consumed as much electricity as two refrigerators use in a year? Sounds crazy but it could be true. What’s not in dispute is that we ordinary people have, as the article puts it, “very little idea of the exact footprint our habit for lolcats, frequent emails, brand new fondleslabs and streaming video takes up.”

Since the data-center industry as a whole has such a large footprint, any reductions that sector can make would obviously be very helpful. Data Center Knowledge published this article offering suggestions for greening the industry. The suggestions include identifying inefficiencies in existing power and cooling systems; utilizing free outside air and water sources for cooling whenever possible; and targeting “zombie servers” — servers that run even when it’s not required. These zombie servers are a little-known source of waste, which can account for up to 30% of all servers! Data Center Knowledge also suggests the industry take various steps to optimize usage of network assets.

Now, what about us as individuals? How can we get a handle on that “habit for lolcats, frequent emails, brand new fondleslabs and streaming video”? It actually might not be as hard as it seems, since a lot of people these days are noticing the personal costs of online addiction and are voluntarily limiting their usage via “internet Sabbaths,” self-imposed hour-per-day limits, and so on.

In Part 2 of this 2-part post, I’ll share some options for measuring one’s personal online footprint, and reducing it.

The Fridgeless Experiment

In a recent post I mentioned that the refrigerator is the largest consumer of electricity in my house. Since I don’t use air-conditioning, heat, water-heater, or a clothes dryer, or any electronics other than phone and laptop and occasionally a tiny speaker, the fridge accounts for probably 80 percent of my electricity use.

One summer some years back, while I was living in an RV in Austin, Texas, I experimented with going fridgeless. I blogged about it in the Austin EcoNetwork newsletter, and am pasting the text of that article here for you. I wrote this back in 2011.

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One of the eco-focused online communities I belong to is the 90PercentReduction Yahoo Group. Participants are dedicated to reducing their personal eco-footprints to 10% of the U.S. average. In this challenge, which for most of us is really more of an ongoing adventure than a state of arrival, we employ various simple yardsticks. And (in what one list member dubbed “Mister Wizard Science Experiments”), we tweak our daily living habits on a trial-and-error basis, each one of us serving as our own lab rats.

The other day, one list member announced her decision to experiment with going without a refrigerator in June. Other list members, who either live fridge-free full time or have conducted short-term experiments in doing so, chimed in with helpful suggestions.

Tried-and-true strategies include reducing or eliminating perishable foods from one’s diet; digging a root cellar; and using the grocery store as your “external cold storage drive.” Of course, not all of these strategies will work in every climate or living environment. For example, if you don’t have a grocery store in walkable or bikable distance.

Beyond the practical tips for living fridge-free, one list member also pointed out that today’s refrigerators consume relatively little electricity, so doing without a fridge might not be such a meaningful exercise. As a permaculturist, I adhere firmly to the design principle, “Obtain a yield.” Reducing electricity consumption by even a watt here and there is a good thing for the planet, but in order for doing without a fridge to be worthwhile for people, they need to be getting something out of it. Personally, I have obtained significant yields from my Fridgeless experiment. These yields and some of my research findings are summarized below. My Fridgeless experiment (in the summers of 2009-2010 in Austin) gave me many yields including:

• enhanced resilience: I learned how I would cope, and help others cope, if the grid went down;
• the satisfaction of adopting a practice that, were it adopted by enough other people, would significantly reduce demand now being served by coal and nuclear;
• tastier food: Produce that’s been chilled loses much of its flavor;
• good skills of organization and food management.

What I learned:

• If I don’t use a fridge in summer, I need a really good varmint-proof box such as a sturdy cooler etc. Well, in this climate, hardly anything is varmint-PROOF, but varmint-resistant is essential.

• One function of a fridge is air circulation. Veggies in a box without air circulation don’t keep as long. If I had stayed in that RV, I would have turned the space formerly occupied by the fridge into a screened food-storage box that would be designed to draw cool air upward. (This would optimally be located on the north side of the house, which mine was.)

• The giant mutant cockroaches of Texas LOVE grapefruit. As in, will gnaw holes in the peel to get to the juicy fruit. I found this out the hard way so you don’t have to. [shudder]

• Sauerkraut that takes a week to make in winter, can be ready in a couple days in summer.

• In a hot climate, pickles are very helpful, just as spices are, for digestion and appetite.

• Being able to walk to a grocery store is a lifesaver. Their fridge becomes my “external storage drive,” so to speak. (Note: Of course, that externalizes part of my footprint, but there would be some net energy savings thanks to economies of scale.)

• Feral foods such as nopalito, lambs quarters, etc, that grow all over wherever you live, are also a lifesaver.

• And of course you can always be growing a bit of your own. Even if you’re a pathetic brown-thumbed gardener like me, you can always be growing SOMETHING. For me, that “something” is most often sprouts in a jar!!!

• Present-day Americans refrigerate a lot of stuff that doesn’t need refrigerating. (Actually I knew this before.)

• Sometimes a listserve post can become a blog entry, that might embolden and inspire others to conduct their own “Mister Wizard Science Experiments” in fridgeless living …

By the way, in my current home in Florida, we have four adults and one teenager sharing a refrigerator. I don’t need the fridge much, but like it because it lets me keep fresh cream for my coffee. And a final note: In winter, even in Austin, I found I didn’t really need a fridge at all, so I just quit using it.

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Postscript: Reading this article, and noticing the electricity consumption of the large old fridge in the house where I now live, has rekindled my interest in fridgeless living. The article by Karen Hendry, posting on the Survival Sullivan website (see “Further Reading” links below), has renewed my inspiration also. I may or may not go fridge-free long term, but it sure is liberating to have this means of further reducing my footprint. And to be someone who doesn’t worry much about power outages!

The last few paragraphs of Ms. Hendry’s article sum it up nicely:

Having a fridge is perhaps the epitome of our privileged, gluttonous North American lifestyle. In many countries around the world, people live without the convenience of a fridge and they manage just fine. Will you have to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a lack of refrigeration? You bet!

There won’t be a cold drink waiting for you after you finish work, but you’ll get used to that. You will also only be able to cook smaller meals that won’t result in leftovers, but you will be eating fresher food, smaller portions, and less junk (like ice cream). This means you will be living a healthier lifestyle and be more motivated to reduce the amount of food you waste.

Hey, you can always try it for a month and see what you think. Your fridge will always be there if you decide you can’t live without it.

Further Reading:

• Excellent article by “Survival Sullivan” on how to live without a fridge. The site is prepper/doomer-oriented, and although I don’t prefer to maintain that kind of mindset day in and day out, Survival Sullivan offers a wealth of practical advice for anyone looking to cut their footprint while also “planning for the worst.” My preferred strategy of planning for the worst is to build resilience (as opposed to, say, hoarding massive stores of packaged food and other supplies). Learning how to live without a fridge (even if you prefer to use a fridge in your everyday life) is a prime example of building resilience. SSullivan’s article is very detailed and extensive; even has a segment about making homemade bacon!

• To my surprise, after retrieving the file of my article “The Fridgeless Experiment” from my hard drive, I actually found my article still up on Austin EcoNetwork’s website!
By the way, AEN’s website is another good one to bookmark. There’s a critical mass of eco-expertise that’s well-reflected in the various blogs on the site. I also find the Jobs section inspiring, and the news of new local businesses such as a snow-cone business . Glimpsing the rich social/economic/business ecosystem of another city, particularly one like Austin that’s had a lot of success in “greening up,” can expand our awareness and help us raise the bar for what’s possible in our own hometowns. Think bicycle-based composting businesses, and a shaved-ice food truck called SolarSno, which is powered entirely by off-grid solar energy.

Bicycle trailers

Bicycle trailers expand the range of errands that can be done without a car. For some folks, bicycle trailers even eliminate the need to own a motor vehicle altogether.

The top photo shows my art & jewelry vending setup at a little sidewalk fair a couple years back. Typically I used a little table for these kinds of events, and would carry the table and other heavy stuff on my bicycle trailer. But this particular time the rear panniers of my bicycle formed the “table,” so I didn’t need a cargo trailer.

The fellow artist behind me in that picture had a pretty compact setup that would’ve been possible to transport by bicycle also, especially with a cargo trailer. In fact, most of the other vendors, even the ones offering fairly large paintings, probably could’ve engineered a bicycle-based setup if they’d wanted to. (It’s not everyone’s goal, but it’s one of mine — to always be able to transport a “booth” by bicycle.)

The second photo, taken about 10 years ago, shows me using a Bikes At Work trailer to transport a compost box I built for the kitchen composting operation at the Quiet Valley Ranch in Texas.

The third photo shows a permaculture booth I set up a few years back at the Earth Day festival in Ormond Beach FL. I got a local nursery to lend me plants in exchange for publicity.

This past Earth Day, for my permaculture education and Deep Green book vending table, I had more stuff than I was able to carry by bicycle, so I took an Uber ride. But I wasn’t very happy with that approach; it felt sort of anti-Earth Day for my purposes. I haven’t had a bicycle trailer for a few years now but I’m looking into getting one again.

My all-around favorite bike trailers are the ones from Bikes At Work. They are pricey and you have to assemble them yourself. Also they are often on back-order. Cargo capacity of 300 pounds makes it my favorite nonetheless. Hauling a mattress, a refrigerator, tubs of compost, and other large heavy items is a piece of cake with these trailers. Quite often it can be easier to haul something with a bicycle trailer like this than with a motor vehicle! They do take up a lot of space and are tricky to store in small indoor spaces, which is why I ended up getting rid of the one I had. In retrospect I should’ve kept it. My “fix” for keeping it in my tiny apartment was to have it double as a hanging rack. It was a tight fit and clashed with my girlie Bohemian decor, but otherwise do-able.

My second-favorite bicycle cargo trailer is the Burley, which is super nimble and fairly sturdy (the one I had could carry about 100 pounds). They also offer models for carrying kids and pets. I used a Burley to carry my camping gear on a six-day solo bicycle ride from Austin to New Mexico back in 2007.

If you’re handy and have the right tools to put together wheels and axles and that sort of thing, you could make your own bicycle trailer. In fact, wherever you live, if your skills run in this direction, I strongly suggest you look into setting up shop. I predict you will have a lot of customers wherever you are.