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!

Work Smart, Not Hard

“Pelicans are lazy,” my friend observed as we sat by the shore.

“Lazy?!” I answered. “How so? They fly their hearts out!”

“But they never flap their wings,” she pointed out.

While it’s not accurate to say pelicans NEVER flap their wings, they certainly are able to glide long distances thanks to their big wingspans, aerodynamic bodies, and deep pelican knowhow of wind and water; weather and micro-climate (“Oh, those tall condo buildings along the beach! At least humans did one thing right,” I can picture pelicans feeling as they take advantage of the air currents produced by the human-built environment.)

Let’s put it this way: Pelicans don’t flap their wings unless they really have to. And neither should we. Work smart, not hard! Husband your energies wisely; deploy them to maximum best effect. 

OK, obviously we don’t have magnificent pelican wings. But we have our own human versions of wings — talents, skills, built-in physical and mental features — and our many human versions of unproductive wing-flapping. Work smart, not hard. Husband your energies like the diamonds and gold that they are. 

What great things we can accomplish for ourselves and for the planet; how much better can we create, by being very deliberate with our energies and attention.

Further Reading:

Staying Grounded in a Big City or Busy World https://www.dailyom.com/cgi-bin/display/articledisplay.cgi?aid=66431 (Be wise with your energies and attentions – yet another jewel of an essay by Madisyn Taylor of the Daily OM. https://www.dailyom.com )

https://www.dailyom.com/cgi-bin/display/articledisplay.cgi?aid=66431

(Sorry for just pasting links; the Link function of the new version of WordPress is a bit tricky and I am taking awhile to master it)

Offsetting My Travel Footprint

In a recent post I mentioned my intentions to offset my travel footprint, which was unusually high (for me) over the past couple of years. I flew in airplanes for the first time since 2010, and I took three solo car trips (by rental vehicle) to Virginia. Ordinarily these days, I avoid flying and solo long-distance car travel. (I don’t own a car and rarely accept rides even locally unless someone is already going my way.) However, all of the trips I mention above were in connection to family circumstances, and I would not have been willing to forgo them. So I decided I would purchase carbon offsets.

In his blog post “Taking Responsibility for My Flights,” Rob Greenfield mentions that he aims for the “Gold Standard” of carbon offset projects, which is the highest standard on the market. So I figured I’d do that too. I searched around, and the website I liked best was carbonfootprint.com, which allowed me to first calculate the impact of my travel, and then purchase carbon offsets on the same site. (The number you see in the graphic above represents two years’ worth of my travel.)

You can check out the calculator at www.carbonfootprint.com

This calculator is really handy because it allows you to set a time period, such as a year. And you can input each separate type of transportation: plane, personal car, bus, taxi, and so on. (You can also use the calculator to compute the carbon footprint of your household energy use and miscellaneous activities.) Although I set the time period to a year, I input all my travel for a two-year period, so the graphic above actually shows two years’ worth of my travel.

Another thing I like about the carbon footprint calculator I found is the crisp, easy-to-understand graphic that displays your “footprint” in relation to the U.S. average and the worldwide target.

I padded the numbers on the generous side to be more confident that I was doing enough. Also, I chose the most rigorous standard of offset projects, the Gold Standard recommended by Rob Greenfield. So how much did it cost me to offset my two-year period of extraordinarily high travel volume? About $31!

Some things I noticed: Although air travel is supposed to be the worst form of travel, environmentally speaking, I noticed that my approximately 4,000 miles of air travel had a lower footprint than my approximately 7,000 miles of car travel over the two-year period. Almost all my car travel was long-distance, but I did accept some rides locally and use taxis/Uber a couple of times. (I padded my estimate to cover that mileage with plenty to spare in case there was a ride or two I forgot.) Car ownership has a high footprint, because there is always the temptation to use that vehicle that sits in your driveway. By not owning a car, I end up naturally having a much lower footprint than average, without even trying that hard. I do end up forgoing some activities when the weather is cold or rainy. Then again, if I really want to do something, I will tough it out and get on the bicycle or bus.

Rob writes that he spent about $2,000 to offset around 199,000 miles of air travel. I was offsetting about 4,000 miles of air travel and 7,000 miles of car travel.

Give the Carbon Footprint calculator a try! And let me know how it goes for you.

Valentine’s Day Thoughts

Happy Valentine’s Day to you. The holiday devoted to love. A few thoughts for you today:

• Love takes so many forms. Our culture tends to elevate romantic love over other forms of love (and hey, I’m as much of a fan of romantic love as anyone else), but there is so, so much more, and we shortchange ourselves by elevating one form of love over others. Love for friends, family, pets, adopted family members, Mother Earth and the great cosmos and all of creation. Love for good honest hard work that’s making a difference. Love for the many ordinary yet breathtakingly beautiful moments that make up a day of life. Love is ALL GOOD! And it really is what makes the world go round.

• When we get too single-mindedly focused on “finding the right person,” we neglect the important task of cultivating other kinds of love and connection. Friendships, family relationships, neighborhood ties, connections with animals and nature. A robust social web made up of many different kinds of relationships helps people conserve resources (because friends and allies tend to share resources), and also helps create safer communities.

• Over the years I’ve noticed that many of my favorite “love songs” (that are intended to be about romantic love) can just as well be sung and listened to as devotional songs. And I really enjoy them that way as well as the originally intended way!

• I read a quote awhile back, something to the effect that “If you have no partner, then all of creation is your partner.” I actually think that’s true of us all, even those who DO have a partner. I love the idea that each and every one of us is living in partnership with all of creation. If you like this kind of thinking, you may also enjoy the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, Persian ecstatic Sufi mystic poets of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, respectively.

• What does love have to do with low-footprint living? Well, aside from the fact that people with some kind of affectionate connection tend to share resources, which lowers our collective footprint, there’s also the fact that people who feel loved and emotionally secure are less likely to engage in impulse buying, binge drinking, hoarding, and other self-sabotaging behaviors. Whenever we’re able to get beyond using material stuff to fill an emotional void, it’s good for us and for the planet. (Note: It’s fine to enjoy material things. We just need to know the difference between taking pleasure in them and using them to fill an emotional void.)

Further Reading:

Who Was St. Valentine and What Is the True Meaning Behind February 14? (article in The Telegraph)

Poets United: A Community for Poets Who Blog (the piece on Rumi and Hafiz linked above comes from this blog)

Musings on an Antique Watch

A piece of advice I always give people who want to live lighter on the earth is, “find out how people did things in the old days” (before electricity, cheap long-distance vehicular transport, and so on). This tip also can save you a lot of money and boost your household’s disaster-preparedness (whether “disaster” is a hurricane or other natural disaster, a financial catastrophe such as losing a job, or a personal crisis such as divorce or sudden illness).

In my jewelry box I have a bunch of old watches, most of them inherited from my Mom. The newer ones all need batteries and/or cleaning in order to (possibly) work. Guess which one worked without any visit to the jeweler: the oldest one! A plain old, purely mechanical, wind-it-up-daily, no-battery watch. I’m not sure how old this is but it looks 1920s or ’30s.

I was aware that clocks had been around for centuries. The operate by springs and weights. (If you want a more detailed explanation you’ll have to look elsewhere; that explanation is enough for me!) I always figured that watches (being small versions of clocks) had been invented sometime quite a bit later, maybe around the 1800s. When I did a little research, I learned that watches in some form have actually been around since the 1500s! As a modern person, I’m accustomed to machines that operate electrically or electronically. Though I don’t have detailed knowledge of electricity or electronics, they feel familiar to me anyway, and dare I say mundane; easy to take for granted. In contrast, intricate devices that operate by purely mechanical technology have a breathtakingly mysterious beauty to me.

Humans did a lot without electricity. It’s a useful and empowering exercise to explore how many of your daily needs you could possibly meet without fossil fuels. (Although electricity is not itself a fossil fuel, most electricity is still generated by burning fossil fuels: usually coal or gas. But solar and other non-fossil-generated electricity is becoming a strong contender in some parts of the world!)

So anyway, about the watch in the photo. I had been keeping this watch in my jewelry box. But now it’s a charming addition to my work-desk, serving as a miniature clock.

I have to remember to wind it every day, or it’ll stop running. And then I have to check my computer or cellphone to reset the time. I guess if the grid totally went down, I’d just set it roughly by the sunrise, since I know the approximate sunrise times for my region at a given time of year. Then again, if the grid totally went down, I’d have other problems than setting this beautiful little antique watch. Or maybe not — maybe it’d become a very helpful tool of my daily life. Maybe I’d be the timekeeper of my neighborhood (at least until some Professor character on the block invented a clock out of palm-fronds and bird-feathers or whatever, a la the Professor on Gilligan’s Island who could make a radio out of a coconut husk).

In any case, I’m really enjoying the watch right now. The tiny timepiece has an exquisite-sounding, almost musical tick, and I hold it up to my ear from time to time just to have the pleasure of hearing that sound.

My antique sewing machine (my grandmother’s, made in the early 1900s, and the machine I first learned to sew on) also worked without any repair or parts replacement. Other sewing machines I’ve dealt with over the past few years, especially the newer electronic ones, are finicky and in constant need of adjusting.

A close friend of mine prefers antique guns to modern ones, for many of the same reasons I love my old sewing machine so much.

How about you? Got any dear old robust machines in your life, that offer functionality and add a bit of beauty to your day too? Let’s hear about them!

(At this point I’m wondering what would happen if I enabled comments on this blog. Would I only hear from spambots and pharmaceutical hawkers, as has generally been the case in the past, or would some actual live human readers offering real thoughts chime in? I may have to try enabling comments, just to see. In the meantime, you’re always welcome to email me.)

Further Reading:

The History of Watches and Clocks. Did you know the first manmade clocks date back to 3,500 BC?

The History of Early Computing Machines, from Ancient Times to 1981. Thinking about old watches got me on a train of thought that led to computational devices, so I dug up some reading tidbits for you. This article talks about abacuses, astrolabes, and more. With big pretty photos! (By the way, the abacus is a truly marvelous ancient device that is also quite beautiful. I lived in Tokyo for five years during the 1990s, and was fascinated to see abacuses being used routinely even in commercial settings. Experienced abacus users tell me an abacus works just as fast as an electronic calculator.)

The Abacus: A Brief History. Read up on counting-devices throughout the ages.


Housekeeping Note: Edits After-the-Fact

Sometimes I end up adding to or otherwise changing a post after I first hit the PUBLISH button. Next-day edits (to correct typos, imprecisions, etc.) are something I do pretty regularly. But also, sometimes I revise a post days or weeks after the fact. I don’t think you get email notifications (those of you who have subscribed to receive email updates) each time I edit. So you don’t get notified each time I’ve amplified or otherwise improved a post. But, this is just a housekeeping note to let you know I have been known to do that! So if you ever go back and reread a post and you think it’s not exactly how you remembered, you’re probably right!

One very recent example of a post that’s been updated is my post about a community facing its “Day Zero” of water. The person who reported that her community was on the verge of Day Zero, posted an update once Day Zero had hit, so I added that update to my post.

“Day Zero” of Water: When Things Get Seriously Real

I rarely make a blog post that’s identical to a post on my Deep Green Book page on Facebook. But today I’m making an exception.

Severe water emergency — real life account: (Following is a current real-life account of water emergency: another community facing “Day Zero”. This post is from a member of the Journey To Zero-Waste group who gave us permission to share. She lives in rural South Africa but this same situation is being faced by communities around the world, from Texas to Australia and elsewhere.)

I would like to share a scary little story with you all. We have known for a long time now that our little town is about to run out of water. People blame the drought, but I am afraid this drought is here to stay. It’s never going to rain enough to fill up the dam and temperatures are reaching 36 to 38 degrees these days.

Our towns economy is based on education, so there are several big boarding schools and a university which has just opened for the 2019 academic year.

Day Zero as we call it is 2 days away. When the taps will dry and there will be no water. Already the one side of town has been without water for 3 days. The people there are very poor, with an unemployment rate of 70 percent. They cannot afford to fetch or buy water. Any minute a huge protest is going to erupt there resulting in violence and looting. 

It’s a giant scary mess. Our municipality is so dysfunctional that this has not been managing the problem. Our town is kind of in the middle of nowhere in a rural province of South Africa, so I am not sure how we are going to get water in.

Its really interesting to see how the town continues to wait til the last minute to start saving water. Still toilets are being flushed, baths are being taken, swimming pools filled. Sometimes I think the only way humanity will learn is the hard way. And s*** is about to get very real in this town.

Here is one comment from another group member in response:

“Honestly friend, I would start grabbing friends and knocking on doors now. Start with whoever runs the school, then go higher up, higher up and higher up. Take a journalist or editor of the local Newspaper with you. Then I would go to the native people or older generations and ask them what they do during the droughts and how they get through it. If thicket is growing I would say their roots run deep and that’s where the water is. Lastly, what is the history of the indigenous people there? Did they migrate often or did they usually stay in one place. The reason I ask is because where there are still indigenous practices runs ancient wisdom as to how they handled these situations and some things can be applicable to today.”

And to this I would add: Water scarcity (albeit caused by waste and mismanagement) is real, and likely coming to a place near each and every one of us if it hasn’t already. We all need to start taking responsibility for building our water-supply resiliency at the household and community level. Collect rainwater; also radically cut our need. People in the USA use an average of 100 gallons of water per person per day, mostly for lawns, plus showers and laundry. In the old days in this country, we used 10 gallons per person per day. Time to radically reduce! 

A key pointer, as mentioned by the commenter I quoted above, is “go to the native people or older generations and ask them what they do during the droughts and how they get through it.” This is a great tip in general: Find out how the old-timers got their daily needs met. Whether it’s water shortage or a power blackout or any other crisis, a great way to prepare is find out how people used to do things in the old days before electricity, running water, freely available long-distance transport, and other modern conveniences. It can actually be surprisingly simple to build resiliency into your household if you do a bit of research on “how the old-timers did it.”

There is really no need for shortages of water or anything else. Conservation and working with nature rather than against her is simple and free, and provides many personal benefits along with the planetary ones. That is why I’m so passionate about low-footprint living. (And why I’m so determined to get the word out to as many folks as will listen!)

Working together, helping one another, we can get through these crises of extreme weather, build resiliency at the household and community level, and bring common-sense back into the design of our human-built environment.

Update: The woman in South Africa posted an update:

Hey guys. So some of you asked for an update. Today was the 5th day of no water for 80 000 residents of the town. Compounded by the fact that our waste removal services have been on strike for 3 weeks now. So basically the town is thirsty and dirty.
Today saw people breaking into fire hydrants a cross the city and selling the water to affected people. Quite scary given that fires break out on the surrounding mountains almost daily.
Tomorrow a local South African aid group is sending in water from Durban and Cape Town.
The worst of it is that the municipality won’t give anyone a straight answer on what the problem is. We are told that plans are being made and that’s all. I am no engineer but their plans don’t sound feasible to me. Also they seem to change almost daily. There is always a new excuse. I think they are just trying to avoid some kind of social anarchy.
At least the national media has picked up on our story now.
For those who asked about Cape Town… How ironic is that Cape Town is now sending us water.
Here is an interesting question. Is denying your citizenship access to water because of incompetence human rights abuse.? In a democracy so focused on constitutional integrity, how did we come to this?
Thank you so much for all your insights. They were very interesting to read. Also quite amazed that you found our story shocking. I think sadly we have become so accostomed to our challenges that we have given up any hope of solving them.

Knowing What’s Good

“The air conditioner killed it. We sat on the porch as the sun went down, and watched as the dust and sunlight mingled in the bamboo grove across the dirt road. We heard the cathedral bell ring out its six o’clock message, and listened to ice clinking against the side of a glass. We could smell the musty mildew, the slightest hint of fragrance from the sweet olive next door. …

“Who can we sit and talk with now, on the porch? Our new house, with its four inch concrete slab, has no porch. … We build porches now, but not as high and wide, because we know we won’t sit on them. Or if we do, we’ll sit alone, with a cup of coffee that will never be as good as the one my father woke me up with every morning.

“Why did we wait so late to find out how common, how simple our wants?”

— Joe Riehl in the introduction to Porch People, book by Marilynn Fournet Adams. 

In news that is seemingly unrelated but not really, the federal government has just overturned the Florida state environmental protection agency’s denial of a permit to a property owner seeking to drill for oil in the Everglades. Read the story here.

We have the choice every day to recognize what’s real and true. And act, via the steady stream of our everyday choices, to protect it. Or, if it’s gone, to bring it back. But some things once gone aren’t so easy to bring back. Porch culture is a maybe.

The Everglades, not so easy.