welcome to my deep-green blog!

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by.

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%, 50%, or even just 10%? 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 a fraction 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.

Again, thank you for being here!

P.S. On this page (and on my Facebook page Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak), I explore at leisurely length, and in no particular order, a variety of threads related to sustainable living. If you also want a handy, compact, ordered guide that contains in condensed form the basic principles for designing your own low-footprint lifestyle, get yourself a copy of my book Deep Green! It’s available on Amazon or direct through me.

Climate Despair

As a reader of this blog, you may not be at all surprised to hear that climate despair is prompting some people to give up on life. You may even have experienced such despair at times; I know I have. After reading Jem Bendell’s article linked above, I decided to start a new section of my sidebar: Practical Tips and Emotional Support for the Possibility of Societal Collapse. I hope you will find these resources helpful.

In his article, Prof. Bendell quotes George Monbiot (the climate activist and journalist who prompted the emergence of the Riot for Austerity movement, which in turn led me to write my book):

“…British writer and climate activist George Monbiot sees succumbing to despair as a moral failure. ‘By throwing up our hands about the calamities that could one day afflict us, we disguise and distance them, converting concrete choices into indecipherable dread,’ Monbiot wrote in April. ‘We might relieve ourselves of moral agency by claiming that it’s already too late to act, but in doing so we condemn others to destitution or death.'”

The phrase “moral failure” might sound like a harsh condemnation to some. After all, who among us hasn’t felt this kind of despair at one time or another? As I see it, the despair itself is not a moral failure; it is what we do with it. There is an invitation to process our feelings and then reach out and care for others as best we can. Community care is an essential piece which is largely missing from our frayed social fabric. Grassroots movements such as Kristin Schell – The Turquoise Table and home vegetable gardening/food-sharing have a crucial role to play in rebuilding trust and nurturance into our society. Online communities, too (such as Riot for Austerity and Journey to Zero-Waste) are essential in that they provide emotional support to people who have chosen a path of awareness, resource-reverence, and care of the earth. All of us, no matter how shattered and overwhelmed we may feel sometimes, are powerful beings. We can extend person-to-person, everyday compassion. We can look out for our brothers and sisters, comfort them in their despair, acknowledge the validity of their feelings even while we are doing the same for ourselves.

More from Jem Bendell (this is from his Deep Adaptation website, which I have also permalinked in my sidebar): “Everyone engaging with our climate predicament will have their own emotional journey. None will be easy. The question of how to engage people is a huge one for me. It is why I have focused on how people who are awake to our predicament can help each other. My main suggestion is that we engage and talk with others who do not think that we are confused, depressed, or irresponsible to have concluded that climate change now threatens societal collapse. In those connections and conversations, we find solidarity, joy and pathways for how to be and what to do in future. If you do not yet have that in your life, or want more, then I recommend reaching out through one of the networks I list here.”

It’s OK To Be Bad At Stuff

Of course it’s OK to be bad at stuff. Nobody (not even those friends of yours and mine who seem like superheroes) can be great at everything.

What I’m saying, though, is that it’s OK to be bad, really bad, at stuff that you are aiming to become good at. Being bad at something is not necessarily a “sign from the cosmic universe” that you should give up on that thing.

A couple of examples from my own life:

Gardening: I am awful at it! I kill plants! I buy lush, healthy vegetable, herb, and flower plants from green-thumbed people, and they wither under my care. (The plants, not the people. The people are doing fine, because black-thumbed agents of death like me keep lining up to give them money for new plants.)

I am bad at gardening … but I consider gardening absolutely necessary. So, I keep plugging away, and over the years, I have become able to grow some veggies. Also, I have become better at researching the keys to success.

Soil is the biggie! It was only recently that I actually went ahead and got a soil test done. Still waiting on the results, but it is looking like excess calcium, which is common on small urban lots (because of construction), and which is easy to fix.

Another game-changer is containers. Just about every cultivated vegetable I have managed to grow, has been in a pot. (They still look stunted and sad compared with how the veggies of my green-thumbed pals look, but at least they don’t outright die.) Now, I am taking it to the next level: My GardenTower just arrived today. It’s a nifty planter that can grow 50 veggie plants, plus a worm condo, in 4 cubic feet of space! Thus leaving more space for wildlife, and creating a convenient compact micro-farm for humans. I will shamelessly acquire a starter batch of perfectly balanced, store-bought organic soil to up my odds of success.

And regardless, I will never give up on gardening. I consider it essential. (Though I have to say, the edible wild plants grown for free in my yard by the Creator far outnumber the cultivars tended by me! I am just fine at foraging.)

Fire-starting: Who knew that a gal who at one point had a side career as a fire-dancer, would be bad at starting fires! Match after match, down the hatch, and no cooking flame to show for it. And yet — we should all know how to start a fire in case we need to. So, I got some help from my friend CB, who could be a highly successful arsonist if he so desired. (Fortunately he does not so desire.) At my most recent gathering, he fired up the Rocket Stove in short order. He was delighted to be in charge of the fire.

And, he gifted me one of those magnesium fire-starter thingees, which actually proved very easy to use! I made a fire faster than I’ve ever made one in my life. (I had actually received one of those magnesium bars as a gift some years back but it got lost in a move before I worked up the gumption to try it.) This also reminds me I should practice starting fires with my magnifying glass (solar-powered fire-starter).

Don’t let being bad at stuff (even the core skills you need for your life) stop you from practicing and improving. In retrospect, it seems like most of the things I’m bad at that I really want to be good at, were just things I gave up on too soon. Maybe the main things I’m bad at are patience and humility! Two things I will never stop working on. I do see some progress on both of those.

How about you: What are you bad at that you really want to become good or at least passable at? And what are some steps you can take to make that happen?

Rainy-Weather Tips for Clothesline Users

Many people tell me they would love to do without a clothes-dryer, not only to reduce their electricity footprint but also to free up space in their homes and have one less piece of machinery to maintain.

But some people rightfully wonder, “How do I do without a clothes dryer if I live in a place that has a rainy season, or has a lot of cloudy/rainy weather throughout the year?”

As it happens, I’m in just that rainy boat right now! The rain feels delicious — cools down the air; wets the sidewalks and asphalt; nurtures the thirsty plants. But it puts a “damper” on what is usually the ultimate energy-efficient, free clothes-dryer and sheet-freshener, namely the blazing Florida sun plus a piece of slim rope stretched between two or three stationary objects.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years of doing without an electric dryer in rainy times.

  • Wait til the sun comes back out! My favorite tip is the simple, old-fashioned one: Just don’t do laundry on rainy days if you can avoid it! Or only wash small items like underwear. But if the rainy spell drags on and you just can’t avoid washing clothes …
  • Have an indoor drying rack or other indoor alternative. In addition to having one of those old-fashioned wooden racks that fold up neatly when not in use, I also have a couple of makeshift drying rigs* set up, one by my bedroom/office window and another in the corner of my kitchen where I keep the mop and broom. That area gets a lot of air circulation through open doors and windows. A young student from Germany, who stayed at my house for a month last spring, told me his father had engineered elaborate clothes-drying racks for their family’s apartment in central Berlin. The racks are raised and lowered by a pulley system as needed.
  • Choose an easy-dry wardrobe. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid burdening yourself with thick heavy clothes that have to be washed frequently, or clothes made of fabrics that take a long time to dry. This is even more true in humid/rainy times. Choose lightweight items that will dry quickly. (In winter, you can layer these items for warmth. Multiple thin layers keep you warmer than one thick layer anyway.) Long underwear made of silk or breathable artificial fiber dries quickly, while your very thick snow pants and jacket should not need to be washed often. In summer, everything is lightweight, so it’s less of an issue, with the exception of thick towels which many people use year-round.
  • About those thick towels! Lots of people love the sensation of a nice thick fluffy towel, but boy are those things a pain to dry, especially in damp weather. You might consider trying out a thin small towel to dry off with, at least during rainy times. This is a bit of local wisdom I picked up while living in Tokyo. I noticed everyone at the public baths seemed to use these thin little hand towels, which proved to be surprisingly effective. I tried one and never looked back. If you want a big cloth to wrap around your body after showering, consider a sarong. They are made of thin fabric so they dry fast!
  • Love your denim jeans or other thick clothes? No problem! Either avoid wearing them in wet weather, or, if you really want to wear them, go ahead, but just don’t worry about washing them til the sun comes out again. Rather than stuff them in the hamper (where they will get damp and smelly, making them harder to clean), hang them on a drying rack til laundry time. Or stick them on the clothesline and let them get a rainwater rinse! Which brings me to my next tip…
  • Clotheslines aren’t just for drying! I often use my clothesline in the rain, to pre-wash my sheets or clothes. I also use the clothesline in rain to rinse out clothes that I have hand-washed in gentle soapy water. Even if it rains for days, and the stuff ends up sitting out on the line for days on end, no harm done. Once the sun comes out, they will dry, and they come out just as clean and sun-dried fragrant as if they’d been quickly washed and dried.
  • Professional cleaners are your friend. I’ve been self-employed since 1995, and even before that, I never worked in any office that had a strict dress code. But if I did, and had many suits and dress-blouses to deal with, I would most likely take them to a laundering service or eco dry-cleaner, rather than try to keep them looking crisp with a regime of hand-washing and line-drying. But actually, now that I think about it, there are a lot of super-easy-care business clothing options nowadays (even women’s jackets) that will pass muster in a corporate setting, yet are easy to take care of at home, so if I were in that position I would likely look into those wardrobe options first.

This is about all the tips I can think of for now. If I notice more things that I do to keep the laundry simple even in rainy times, I’ll add them later. And please feel free to email me your tried-and-true tips!

*My makeshift drying rigs: 1) In the kitchen, I have a sturdy PVC beach lounge-chair turned on its end. It’s an ideal drying rack for sheets or other large items, and serves fine for small items like dishtowels too. I scrounged it off the beach; some hotel had tossed it, probably because one of the slats had broken, making it unsuitable for use as a lounge chair. It makes a nice clothes-drying rack though! And 2) In my bedroom, I have clothes-hangers hanging on a pole that’s stretched between two high cabinets. The air from the open window will usually get the clothes dry enough even in super rainy weather. (The pole that the hangers are hanging on is actually the underside of an ironing board. I have no need for an iron, so instead I use the iron — which I inherited from my Mom — as a handy shelf for my clothes!)

Local Live Music, from Nature

My morning dip in the ocean was particularly enjoyable today. Extra special treats (on top of a thing that is always special, the beach): water cooled by recent rains; AND the sound of the train reached all the way to the ocean!

(It’s a well-known delight to those who enjoy such things: the various train-sounds carrying across the Intracoastal Waterway in detail, not just the horn but even the wheels clacking on the tracks, and the tracks themselves humming metallically with the approach of a train. The ICW seems to act like a natural amplifier, as if the train were right next door instead of a half mile inland. My friends on the mainland often hear the sound of the ocean waves when I don’t even hear them at my house. I often hear the train sound at my house or elsewhere on beachside but have never heard it while I was actually in the ocean.)

Our local sounds of nature (including human activity) are one of my favorite forms of “local live music”. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying your day. What are some of your favorite sounds where you are?

Progress on Plastics

Chick-Fil-A is piloting a restaurant composting program. “‘I think it’s really cool how it all works together,’ said Athens Chick-fil-A operator Shane Todd. ‘We buy products and sell them to customers. We take the scraps and compost them. And then the compost goes back to the farm, which produces the lettuce that comes back to our restaurant. It completes the circle.

Trader Joe’s is phasing out single-use plastics nationwide, following a petition by Greenpeace that got nearly 100,000 signatures.

In my county, a citizens’ group called Dream Green Volusia has launched a program to recognize local restaurants for reducing single-use plastics. Their slogan is “Go Drastic On Plastic.”

Here is the list of requirements for DREAM GREEN VOLUSIA’s Dream Green Recognition:

• Straws given by request only

• No single-use plastic bags

• No single-use Styrofoam containers (including cups)

• No plastic to-go and in-house utensils

• No plastic take-out containers/lids (including cups)

• No single-use plastic straws

• No plastic stirrers (such as for beverage use)

• No plastic bottled water

• No single-use plastic condiments (such as coffee creamers, ketchup, sauce)

*If 8-9 of the requirements are met = Gold recognition

*If 5-7 of the requirements are met = Silver recognition

*If 2-4 of the requirements are met = Bronze recognition

Note, the focus is on recognizing establishments that are taking positive steps, as opposed to shaming establishments that are not doing so.

DGV has identified a number of restaurants in our region that are taking action to reduce single-use plastics.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH

GOLD

Norwoods (recognition email sent)

Go Juice (recognition email sent)

Third Wave Café (recognition email sent)

Red Dog Surf Shop and Kembali Surfshack (recognition email sent)

Aloha Vibes (recognition email sent)

Riverpark Terrace (recognition email sent)

Baracoa (recognition email sent)

The Florida Local (recognition email sent)

The Baker’s Table (recognition email sent)

SILVER

Corkscrew (recognition email sent)

Clancy’s/Café Verde (recognition email sent)

Lucky’s Market (recognition email sent)

Island Roasters (recognition email sent)

Break Awayz At the Beach (recognition email sent)

Yellow Dog Eats (recognition email sent)

Toni and Joe’s Patio (recognition email sent)

Wake Up Café (recognition email sent)

SoNapa Grille (recognition email sent)

Mason Bar (recognition email sent)

Prima (recognition email sent)

Superfoods Café, The Healing Zone (recognition email sent)

Da Kine Poke NSB (recognition email sent)

Mango Tango Frozen Yogurt (recognition email sent)

BRONZE

Outriggers (recognition email sent)

Café Heavenly (recognition email sent)

Uncle Chicken’s (recognition email sent)

Donna’s Canal Creamery (recognition email sent)

C’s Waffles-Beachside (recognition email sent)

American Legion 17 (recognition email sent)

Panheads Pizzeria (recognition email sent)

Heath’s Natural Foods (recognition email sent)

Sea Vista Tiki Bar (recognition email sent)

PONCE INLET

BRONZE

Racing’s North Turn

FLAGLER BEACH

SILVER

Break Awayz at the Beach

The recognition effort is a work in progress; many area restaurants remain to be visited. Do you have any similar grassroots efforts happening in your area? If so, please share your successes. If not, maybe you’ll find DGV’s blueprint useful in starting something in your town, city, or county.

Sewage Solutions

There’s a vigorous debate going on in my region about “septic vs. sewer.” Specifically, whether or not the homes that still have septic tanks should be forced to connect to the sewer system. Following is a compilation of comments that I’ve posted recently on this topic in local eco groups. I hope you will find it useful.

One point I like to emphasize is that there are other options besides septic and sewer. They work with nature, and they turn “waste” into a resource.

“Plan C”: Three Proven Alternatives to Septic and Sewer

1) The Watson Wick

“Whereas almost all flush toilets either send black water to the municipal sewers and water treatment plants or to a septic system which leach the black water far beneath the soil (and out of the reach of most plants´ roots), the Watson Wick System allow the nutrients that are in black water to be utilized by plants while completing eliminating any sort of risk associated with the pathogens that our waste contains.” (https://permaculturenews.org/2017/11/14/watson-wick-flush-toilet-system/)

2) Constructed Wetlands

EPA site referencing various docs

“A constructed wetland is used to recreate the treatment processes that occur in natural wetlands. Natural wetlands generally have visible water in the system. (NOTE: Natural wetlands are not to be used to treat wastewater. Constructed wetlands are sized and designed specifically to treat wastewater.)”

“Septic tanks are used as the precedent treatment process to constructed wetlands. Once the wastewater leaves the septic tank, it enters the wetland. The pathogens and nutrients entering the wetland are believed to be removed from the effluent by microbes living on the surfaces of the media and plant roots.” (https://ossf.tamu.edu/constructed-wetland/)

3) Compost Toilets

(Note, although DIY models are effective and inexpensive, and are popular with the “off-grid homestead” crowd, there are also a number of commercially manufactured models, which look similar to Porta-potties or RV toilets)

“Compost toilets produce no waste, no sewage, no wastewater, no odor and no environmental pollution. They conserve water while producing soil fertility.” (From Humanure Handbook author Joe Jenkins, who I consider the foremost authority on compost toilets in the USA, and maybe even the world)

My overall opinion:

Before even thinking about forced conversion, the best solutions to the actual problem are cheaper and closer at hand. Assuming that the real goal is to address pollution in our waterways (as opposed to, say, a goal of generating revenue by forcing people onto sewer), we can get more bang for our buck by doing the following before we consider the expensive step of switching septic to sewer:

– Fully enforce the restrictions on fertilizing lawns in the summer (wet season)

– Ensure that septic tanks get inspection/checkup in a timely manner

– Strongly encourage rainwater collection (via cisterns, earthworks, and Ocean-Friendly Gardening techniques such as rain gardens, bio-swales). Did you know — every 1,000 sf of roof in this region can collect THIRTY THOUSAND gallons of rainfall a year. That is one huge amount of water that currently mostly gets sent straight into the stormwater/sewer system and waterways, since our soil is such a porous sieve. Rainwater harvesting is a major missing piece in a resilient sewer OR septic system.

– Replace depleted vegetation by planting shrubs, trees, tall native grasses; and strongly discourage the current mainstream “land-scalping” practices such as excessive pruning and mowing. Stop mowing all the way to the edge of ponds and other bodies of water; plant reeds and other tall vegetation there

– Avail ourselves of UF-IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) and other expert sources to identify and install vegetation that will uptake the largest amount of stormwater and/or nutrients

Here is what I consider the most effective leverage point for action: Conserve trees and wetlands, or restore trees and wetlands where they have been lost.

“A single acre of wetlands can hold up to 1.5 million gallons of rain or melting snow. Otherwise it winds up in the sewer system. Trees help keep water out of sewer systems, too. In fact, the group American Forests estimates that as Washington, D.C.’s tree canopy thinned by 43 percent between 1973 and 1997, the amount of stormwater running into the city’s aging sewer system increased by 34 percent.” (From AmericanRivers.org)

Fridge Success!

I’ve been engaged in an ongoing effort to dramatically reduce my food refrigeration footprint. You can read about my past experiments here:

The Fridgeless Experiment (Oct 16, 2019; original article published in 2011 in Austin EcoNetwork News)

Fridgeless Experiment Part 2 (Jan 2, 2019)

Fridge Experiment Continued (Jun 23, 2019)

My latest experiment (which I wrote about in the June 23 post) was to unplug the fridge for a few days at a time, plug it back in for 2-3 days (long enough for the freezer-packs to freeze back up), then unplug it for a few days til the cooling function was nearly gone, at which point plug it back in til the freezer-packs refroze, and so on like that. While this reduced my electricity usage considerably, and kept the food cool, it required a lot of my attention. And I also found out that the fridge tended to pick up yucky food odors easily while it was turned off, even though it stayed cool the whole time. Something about lack of air circulation, I’m sure.

Finally, the other day, I hit on what appears to be a great solution for me: I found a used micro-fridge for sale on Craigslist. Plugged in on the warmest setting, it keeps my veggies and yogurt cool, yet is very quiet and does not cause any spikes in electricity usage as a big fridge does. This is the first time I have used a refrigeration device while still being able to keep my daily usage to less than 1kWh. With the big fridge, it was always 2 or 3 kWh per day in the summer; 2 kWh per day in winter.

From now on, the big energy-hog fridge is reserved for special events (such as our 4th of July block party, when it will be needed to store watermelons and the “Happy Birthday America” cake and such) or times of multiple houseguests/housemates. And come to think of it, my most frequent houseguests share a lot of my lifestyle habits, so the tiny fridge will suffice almost all of the time.

It was great logging on to my FPL Energy Dashboard this morning and seeing that ZERO for yesterday. (Zero does not literally mean I used no electricity; it just means the total came in under 1kWh.)