Never done a Facebook Live before (or if I did, it was a long time ago and very short). This morning early, I took a stroll in a park in my neighborhood and rambled about various topics for what ended up being about 35 minutes. If you listen, thank you and I welcome your comments on any of the issues I brought up, or whatever is on your mind.
Yesterday I embarked on a new project: Making a HAND-WRITTEN copy of DEEP GREEN book. With pen and ink on thick archival paper, in a beautiful blank book I had been saving for just such an occasion.
I have no idea how long it’ll take! Five days? More? Less? I wonder how long it took one of those monks back in medieval times to copy out a Bible. (My book is considerably shorter than the Bible.)
And I have no idea how many times I will have to stop to unclog the ink-pen. But I’m having fun! The price I’ll ask for the finished product (assuming I choose to offer it for sale) will depend in large part on how many solid days of labor (and how many bottles of ink) it ends up taking! Not that I’ll be in a hurry to sell it. I expect this to be a rather slow-moving, big-ticket item.
The original book does not have illustrations, but this special fancy edition will probably end up with a few!
I’ve been saying for awhile now that I wanted to produce a deluxe hand-written edition of my book. Very thrilled to be embarking on this artisanal adventure at last!
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away at my local print shop, a new run of regular printed copies is being produced even as we speak! And if you are among those who ordered a copy, I’ll be able to put it in the mail to you within the week if all goes according to plan. (Postal mail — #SupportUSPS !)
As promised, I have now uploaded my book Deep Green here, chapter by chapter. August 31 is three years to the day since I launched my book.
My original intended audience was fellow environmentalists looking for guidance on how to reduce their eco footprint. But as time went on it occurred to me that this book could be a great help to anyone seeking financial freedom.
The things that increase our eco-footprint also tend to be a drain on our household finances. A lot of people have been financially struggling for a long time. When the Covid pandemic hit, many people’s financial situations went from bad to worse.
In the three years since I wrote my book, we’ve also seen a whole slew of devastating hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters and extreme weather. According to my best research, human activity (specifically, the hyper-consumerist USA lifestyle which has been exported to many other countries) plays a significant role in the intensifying disasters.
It is for both of the above reasons that I am choosing to post my book online for free. If this increased availability motivates even a few more people to read my book and be helped by even some of its suggestions, I’ll be happy.
Now, the truth is that many people don’t prefer to read a whole book online. Most readers seem to prefer the print copy of my book, and some people like the PDF. And so I will continue to offer both the print copy and the PDF for sale.
Whether you’ve read my book already or not, I hope you will find its online availability helpful. Please share this link with anyone you know who’d be interested in household thrift, preparedness, creative mobility, and (or) sparking a #GrassrootsGreenMobilization !
DEEP GREEN: Minimize Your Footprint; Maximize Your Time, Wealth, and Happiness
by jenny nazak
[BACK COVER] Hello there! Are you passionate about the environment but not sure how to make a difference? Believe it or not, your everyday choices can make a powerful impact for the good! In this book I show you how to create your own version of a low-footprint lifestyle. Yes, it is possible to radically reduce your footprint without sacrificing a good standard of living. Not only that, you can actually RAISE your standard of living—improve your health, take back your time, create your ideal livelihood, build a nurturing community, and have more money to spend on the things that really matter to you. Can you really do and have all that while also benefiting the planet? YES YOU CAN! Open this book and let’s get started. — Jenny Nazak
[FRONT COVER] DEEP GREEN: Minimize Your Footprint; Maximize Your Time, Wealth, and Happiness
by Jenny Nazak
(c) 2017 Jenny Nazak, all rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the sole consent and written permission of the author.
First published in August 2017 (ebook) and March 2018 (print edition)
Printed in the United States of America
CHAPTER 1. Clarify Your Motives
CHAPTER 2. My Background and How I Got Started
CHAPTER 3. A Grassroots Movement for Radical Reduction: The Riot for Austerity
CHAPTER 4. Calculating Your Riot Numbers
CHAPTER 5. Riot Cheat-Sheet
CHAPTER 6. My Riot Numbers & How I Achieve Them
CHAPTER 7. Maximize Your Handprint
CHAPTER 8. Frequently Asked Questions
CHAPTER 9. Get Your Mind in Order
CHAPTER 10. In Closing
• Books, Websites, Social Movements, & Other Resources
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OUT-TAKES (Bonus Chapter 13-1/2)
DEEP GREEN is dedicated to my father and mother, Robert Michael Nazak and Martha Louise Nazak, who raised me and my siblings to care, and to do something about it.
INTRODUCTION (August 2017)
The capacity of people to self-mobilize for a worthy cause is remarkable. Right now, as I’m putting the finishing touches on this book, everyday people from all over the United States are organizing relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Some people are even loading up their kayaks and other small boats to go to Houston themselves and help with rescue operations.
This book is my effort to contribute to a grassroots mobilization. It also involves rescue, but of a different kind. I’m setting out to save our earth from an eco-crisis by popularizing a low-footprint lifestyle in the United States. I firmly believe we green-minded folk can solve most, if not all, of the physical problems we humans have created on this planet. I also think we can heal a lot of the spiritual and emotional scars as well, if we can get this lifestyle to catch on in the USA.
An actual grassroots mobilization for a low-footprint lifestyle is already in progress. Two heroic women named Sharon Astyk and Miranda Edel started it back in 2007. It’s called the Riot for Austerity, and you’ll be reading about it in this book. In fact, it’s the core of this book. In writing DEEP GREEN I’m setting out to give a boost to the Riot for Austerity movement. We need more people! Besides benefiting the planet, the Riot lifestyle is quite rewarding in a direct personal way. By the way, my working title for this book when I first started writing, was “Grassroots Green Mobilization.”
Crisis and Craziness
Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV, and you’re likely to get alternating doses of shock, terror, and rage at what’s happening in the world.
According to some of the most highly regarded climate scientists, human activities are influencing the climate so much that our planet could literally become unlivable––its air unbreathable; its waters poisonous—by the end of next century.(1)
In the United States, consumer demand for fossil fuels has fattened the extractive industries into the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, which is increasing pressure for mining, fracking, and drilling on our national parklands and other public lands. The week before this book was launched, the U.S. federal government had announced it was looking at a list of national monuments and other parklands as candidates to be sold off, including Giant Sequoia Monument.(2) After a loud public outcry, the government said it would not eliminate the monuments. But it’s still considering reducing the size of some parks and monuments and expanding the range of activities that are allowed within their borders.(3)
The climate-change article and the threat to wildlands are just two recent examples of why I felt called to write this book. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t stumble on some news item that reinforces my decision to take on the task of writing Deep Green, a book about how to radically reduce your footprint while enriching your life and helping the planet.
Horrifying and sickening news headlines aside, there’s the sheer craziness of things I see around me every day that are considered by modern society to be “normal.” The mainstream North American lifestyle defies common sense in many ways:
• We spend countless hours commuting to our jobs, which we need to make the payments on our cars … which we need in order to drive to our faraway jobs.
• We live in houses that are in walking distance of nothing.
• We drive our kids two hours to a play-date because there are no kids living in our neighborhood. Actually there probably are, but we live so much of our lives behind closed doors that the kids have no way to find each other. As for us adults making a priority of knocking on doors and meeting our neighbors … well, that’s just not normal, right?
• We expend exorbitant amounts of money and energy to heat and cool the air of our buildings and vehicles so we never have to experience a moment of discomfort——nary a degree of heat in summer, nor cold in winter. When someone’s air conditioner breaks, it’s an emergency. The bill comes to hundreds or thousands of dollars, and is paid as a necessity, without question. (In my next life, I want to be an air-conditioning repair technician. No, not really——but the guaranteed steady income and the feeling of always being needed must be nice!) Also largely unquestioned is the monthly utility bill, which can soar into the hundreds of dollars.
• We spend good money and countless hours sweating on exercise treadmills. This we do to burn the excess calories that our affluent culture enables us to consume cheaply, and that our door-to-door automotive transportation keeps us from burning naturally. But when a person rides her bike seven miles to work or school, she’s a weirdo and a renegade. Sweat on the treadmill for no purpose other than burning calories, and it’s normal. Voluntarily subject yourself to sweating outdoors in the sun as a means of free reliable transportation, and you’re a nutball!
• Our food comes from thousands of miles away, wrapped in plastic. I live in Florida, one of the biggest citrus-producing centers on the planet. Does it make sense to you that a bag of California oranges would even make it to my state? Somewhere out on I-10, there’s surely a tractor-trailer full of them heading here right now.
• As I sit writing this, a large noisy truck is getting ready to re-pave my street—a street that doesn’t need re-paving. The current road surface, faded to a soft light-grey by the Florida sun, is about to be “improved” by a coat of smooth black asphalt that will make the street at least 10 degrees hotter. (Micro-climate is a powerful thing!)
• On any given day in a typical neighborhood, someone with a fiercely loud lawn-mower and an even louder weed-whacker will spend an hour (or hours) mowing his lawn and then edging it. Then comes the leaf-blower for another high-decibel hour or so, chasing particles of dust and clippings around the lawn and the driveway. The extreme noise, waste, and fumes intruding on a breezy summer afternoon are considered by mainstream society to be a fair trade-off for having a neatly maintained green square of turf. For what? Busywork in the service of a pointless conformity! (Sometimes when I see a meticulously buzz-cut, fiercely fertilized lawn, I ask myself how many pleasurable hours of reading or fishing or family time it cost the owner.)
• Somewhere, in front of a school building, a long line of cars winds halfway around the block. Each car is driven by an adult who’s dropping off one child. This ritual is repeated at the end of the school day when the parents come to pick up their kids. What happened to school buses or walking? In many places, those things are no longer normal. Chauffeuring by private auto is.
• Some offices are so harshly air-conditioned in the summer that people actually bring jackets and space-heaters to work!
• Although the United States is a ridiculously wealthy nation full of labor-saving devices, just about everyone regardless of income bracket seems constantly pressed for money and time. What’s wrong with this picture?
• We pride ourselves on our high standard of living, yet the mainstream American lifestyle is extremely poor in terms of community cohesion and other elements of social capital. As Robert Putnam points out in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, more people are bowling than ever, but rather than bowling in leagues or with a friend they are bowling alone!(4)
You can probably think of many more examples right off the top of your head. All of these are things I see as symptomatic of the mainstream rich, industrial-world lifestyle that’s full of waste, hyper-consumption, and alienation—largely courtesy of a seemingly endless supply of cheap fossil fuels. I see all of these issues as things that we, as individuals, millions and millions strong, can best address by radically reducing each of our footprints.
I count myself as one of the fortunate ones who have disconnected from the worst of the craziness. I have time to go for walks, and I have friends who have time to join me. I have enough money for necessities, and my needs are simple. The things I value most are inexpensive or free. You, too, as someone who’s chosen to walk a greener path, might already be part of this fortunate minority. Still, the high-footprint, high-overhead consumer madness is all around us and even those of us who’ve managed to disentangle ourselves to a degree cannot help but be affected by it.
It’s Not Your Fault
If you’re aspiring to reduce your footprint and you live in North America, the deck is stacked against you in many ways. Policies are in place that subsidize junk-food and automotive transport. Buildings are designed for constant climate control; are virtually unlivable without it. Roads and shopping centers aren’t designed for bicyclists or pedestrians. Social norms ridicule conservation and thrift. These are just a few examples of our culture’s built-in impediments to practicing an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle.
Such challenges can feel terribly daunting, but they are surmountable. I wrote this book to help you surmount them. The factors we can control are much larger than the ones we can’t.
Who Am I?
So, what qualifies me to write this book? I’m a United States citizen who’s cut her eco-footprint to about 10% of the U.S. average, while fully participating in society and enjoying a comfortable standard of living. I’ll share the details of how I maintain my low footprint. I’ll describe the personal benefits I’ve gained from my extreme-low-footprint lifestyle. And I’ll share practical tips and resources to help you craft your own version of an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle.
Regardless of the dwelling you occupy, what you eat or don’t eat, or what your life circumstances are, you can radically reduce your footprint without sacrificing a good standard of living.
In addition to offering a practical doable way for an individual to help the planet, an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle also has great personal benefits. The long list of personal benefits I’ve experienced include freeing up huge amounts of time and money for the things that give meaning to my life, such as enhanced health and wellbeing, inner peace, and disaster-preparedness.
For a long time now (at least a decade), I’ve been thought of by friends and colleagues as someone who lives a low-footprint life and “walks her talk.” Until very recently, I was attributing my footprint-reduction success entirely to my own passion and commitment. And this made me a little bit impatient with other people. If someone admired my lifestyle so much, why weren’t they living it?
Well, for starters, I wasn’t making it look very easy or attractive. I wasn’t taking the time to find out what kind of support people might need.
I wasn’t acknowledging how much I, myself, was being helped by resources that other people had worked hard to create such as books, websites, courses, videos, and events. Granted, it was my passion and commitment that led me to these resources. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, right? Only recently (very embarrassingly recently), it started to dawn on me that there was a reciprocal action at work; that the resources I uncovered were in turn helping me go further in reducing my footprint.
That’s when I decided to write this book. DEEP GREEN represents my best effort to distill 20 years of learning and experience into a brief practical manual. To avoid making this a multi-hundred-page tome, I’ve chosen to err on the side of conciseness rather than try to anticipate every possible question. Any deficiency arising from lack of detail, I’ve attempted to remedy via pointers to extensive, highly detailed, publicly available online resources. You’ll find these resources listed, with links, in the appendix. You’ll also find links to online community where you can ask me questions and also meet others who are practicing this lifestyle.
(And in case you want extended one-on-one time with me, to get a whole bunch of questions answered or discuss details about your life that you’d rather not share publicly, your purchase of this book includes a “Deep Green Tech Support” session by phone!)
As I promised in a pre-launch announcement, I’ve laid out the core concept of the book right here in the first section, rather than bury it somewhere in the middle. Here you go:
THE BASIC FORMULA FOR WALKING YOUR TALK AND SAVING THE WORLD =
Minimize Your Footprint (negative impact)
+ Maximize Your Handprint (beneficial impact)
= DEEP GREEN impact
Things That’ll Help You Reduce Your Footprint
• Have compelling motives. An absolutely essential key to ongoing success in pursuing a low-footprint lifestyle is to have a set of motives that are deeply meaningful to you. You’ll read about that in the next section.
• Get concrete targets. The targets need to be ambitious, yet doable and flexible. I found people who took great time and care to develop just such a set of targets and practiced them so passionately that they ended up sparking a movement. They dubbed this movement the “Riot for Austerity,” also known as the “90 Percent Reduction Challenge.” This book would not exist without their work. You’ll read about the Riot, and you’ll be able to start using the targets right away to calculate your current footprint and make reductions.
• Find supportive community. In this book, I highlight some social movements (in addition to the Riot) that I’ve found inspiring, nurturing, and energizing.
• Get your inner landscape in shape: address mental and emotional well-being. While a detailed treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this book, I talk about it in Chapter 5. In the appendix, I point you to some books and programs that have benefited me immensely.
• Tap into your creativity and make your unique contribution. I’ll share some resources that have helped me overcome self-doubt and resistance, so that more of my ideas attain escape velocity from my head and make it out into the world. You may not think of yourself as creative, but you are. It’s a fundamental attribute of human beings.
Deep-Green Tech Support for Fellow Americans
I’m writing this book mainly for fellow North Americans. Why do I single out Americans?
• I believe in starting at home, and the USA is my homeland. (Canadians, your footprint and way of life are similar to ours, so you’re included in my primary target audience too.)(5)
• The United States has so much waste and inefficiency baked into its policy and infrastructure. People wishing to live green need all the practical advice and moral support they can get!
• The USA is a trend-driver. Where America goes, for better or for worse, the rest of the world tends to follow. So, getting the U.S. footprint under control is the best way to bring the human race into balance with other species and our planet.
• It’s simply the right thing to do: stop hogging more than our share of the world’s resources and start behaving like the “world leader” country that we call ourselves.
Much of the world’s population is already living at a tiny fraction of the U.S. footprint, but in this case, the “lifestyle” is not a choice; it’s imposed by dire poverty. Billions of people are living under conditions that aren’t even adequate to sustain the physical needs of the human body, let alone provide anything resembling a decent quality of life. And yet, simply exporting the U.S. mainstream lifestyle worldwide would be disastrous. Our modest share of the world’s population is already wreaking havoc with ecosystems all across the globe. Imagine multiplying that impact by billions more people.
As I see it, we eco-minded Americans have a moral obligation to the rest of the world to model an extremely low-footprint lifestyle that includes all the elements of a good standard of living. These elements include:
- Reliable access to good food and safe water
- Clean reliable energy for cooking, lighting, and other needs
- Clean and sound transportation infrastructure
- Telecommunications infrastructure
- Safe dwellings
- Adequate sanitation
- Health care
- A good and wholesome livelihood
Although I’m writing mainly for North Americans, people in other countries might also benefit from the suggestions and resources in this book. Everyone, I welcome your feedback.
CHAPTER 1. CLARIFY YOUR MOTIVES
Trying to live a low-footprint life is a challenge, especially if you live in a place where the infrastructure and social norms are working against you. The absolute first step for me, in this endeavor or any other, is to clarify my motives.
On some occasions, you might find yourself faltering or burning out. But when that happens, don’t panic. You can instantly regain your energy and focus by reminding yourself of your “why’s”, your motives for pursuing this lifestyle.
For best results, your “why’s” should include personally rewarding motives as well as planetary/humanitarian motives. For a saintly, ascetic minority, planetary motives may suffice. But most people (myself included) need to have personal, “selfish” motives in order to stay motivated.
I’ve found that even the very compelling motive of wanting to live up to my own moral standards isn’t always enough. I really rely on immediate self-interest motives to keep me going. Here’s a current list of my “why’s”:
• Moral imperative to only use my fair share of the world’s resources.
• Help my country, the United States, set a better example for the world.
• Do my part to avert climate disaster, food shortages, government-imposed rationing, and energy shortages.
• Do my part to reduce human encroachment on wildlife habitat.
Personal “selfish” motives (I put “selfish” in quotes because many of the things that seem selfish also make us better members of society):
• Reduce my financial overhead so I have freedom to pursue creative projects and part-time gigs, rather than having to go out and get a full-time job that’s not aligned with my life purpose. (This is actually important in more ways than one: As a person in her 50s who’s been self-employed since 1995, I wouldn’t likely be considered a desirable candidate for a conventional job anyway, even if I were to seek one.)
• Reduce irksome busywork (lawn mowing, cleaning and maintaining a large house, etc.). This gives me more time for things I enjoy, such as taking free online classes, swimming in the ocean, and taking walks on the beach with friends.
• Free up time for civic participation and volunteer work, both of which I consider essential to my definition of a good life.
• Aesthetics: Create a home environment that’s quiet and free of distractions from visual clutter, electronic noise, etc. Always get to be connected with the sights, sounds, and smells of outdoors. (I achieve this by keeping my windows open most of the time.)
• Preserve some of the sweet, simple flavor of my childhood.
• I feel more secure, having reduced my dependence on things I can’t control (air-conditioning breakdown, car failure, etc.).
• Inner peace that comes from living in harmony with my core principles.
• A constant, tangible way to practice my religious and spiritual beliefs.
• A form of worship; communion with the divine.
• Enhanced disaster-preparedness. The low-footprint lifestyle turns out to be good training for just about any kind of disaster, whether natural or personal. During a hurricane evacuation, I was able to sort my stuff calmly, secure my home, and evacuate quickly. Faced with personal financial collapse, I was able to keep a level head and navigate through it.
“YMMV”: Your Motives May Vary! Feel free to use any of mine that resonate with you.
CHAPTER 2. MY BACKGROUND & HOW I GOT STARTED
My “extremely low-footprint lifestyle journey” started about 20 years ago. It began as a quest to demonstrate that it was possible for a person, living in the United States, to maintain a high standard of living while having a low enough footprint that her energy needs could feasibly be met by renewables. I’d become involved in the environmental movement, and I was seeing a major problem with our approach. We were waving signs and circulating petitions, trying to get the government and corporations to change their behavior, but we as individuals (consumers) weren’t giving them any incentive to change.
We wanted to shut down coal mines, but very few of us were willing to boycott electricity or even cut our usage significantly. We opposed oil drilling, but very few of us were willing to boycott gasoline or even significantly reduce our driving. It seemed the environmental movement was looking to the government to just snap its fingers and mandate a switch to renewables—and looking to corporations to stop producing fossil fuels, even though we were continuing to create the demand for them.
Granted, we had a lot working against us if we wanted to effect change via our daily habits and choices. But someone had to get the ball of change rolling, and I thought we were crazy to expect that “someone” to be the government or corporations. I was convinced it had to be us, the consumers. Millions and millions of us, with our millions and millions of wallets.
Besides the wish to prove that a renewable-powered life was feasible, I was also motivated by concern about climate change and Peak Oil. Note, I wasn’t actually using renewable energy (other than my solar oven and twig-fired Rocket Stove); I was simply shrinking my footprint to an extent that it would be feasible to run my life on renewables alone. I didn’t actually have any metrics for this; I was simply going by gut feeling and common sense.
My low-consumption lifestyle paid great dividends. I was deriving satisfaction from doing my part to help address a global problem. I was feeling an enhanced sense of security from reducing my dependence on entities and factors beyond my control.
I was saving a great deal of time and money, which I channeled into creative projects, education, and volunteer work. I experienced, much of the time, the deep-seated inner peace that comes from living in accordance with one’s highest principles.
I had created a home environment of great beauty (to my tastes), where every object was loved and regularly used; where the unadorned walls served as a projection screen for the dancing shadows of the tree branches stirred by the night breeze; where the line between indoors and outdoors was blurred; where I could always hear the crickets and the train whistle and the laughter of neighbors.
I also realized, over time, that my low-footprint practices had, for me, the calming and restorative effect of a spiritual practice. In short, I was discovering how deep the personal, purely “selfish” benefits of this lifestyle were, and how strongly they kept me motivated.
The drawback of my approach was that, since I didn’t have any metrics to go by, I never knew for sure whether or not I was reducing my footprint enough. I couldn’t even allow myself a can of beer or an ice-cream cone without thinking, “There’s another nail in the coffin of the planet. There’s another tree felled in the rain forest!” and so on. I even worried about using toilet paper—how could it be sustainable?
Another drawback was that I was doing this alone. I found myself wishing that the government would impose a mass green mobilization, along similar lines to the rationing of World War II, except in this case the war would be on climate change and environmental degradation. We could have a modern version of those old glory days and redeem our nation’s post–World War II excesses. Oops, there I was, falling into the fallacy I’d criticized before: looking to the government to make change happen! But I yearned for camaraderie and community, and felt that a green mobilization would solve most, if not all, of our problems.
Speak of the Angel
Little did I know that I was about to have my wish granted, though not quite in the way I envisioned. While I was living my best guess of an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle that would turn the tide of climate change and enable a switch to renewables, other people had actually developed detailed metrics for such a lifestyle. And their metrics were derived from the work of reputable climate scientists. Plus, the people who had developed these metrics were practicing this lifestyle and blogging about their experiences. This, in turn, inspired many other people to jump on the bandwagon. A grassroots self-mobilization movement, aimed at saving the environment and averting the extinction of humankind, was already under way! You’ll meet these eco-angels in the next chapter.
CHAPTER 3. A GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT FOR RADICAL REDUCTION: THE RIOT FOR AUSTERITY
For achieving and maintaining an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle, I consider the following two things extremely helpful, even necessary:
1) A set of concrete targets, ambitious but doable.
2) A supportive community of people who are on the same path.
I’ve discovered both of those things. And in this section, I share them with you.
Back in 2007, two eco-conscious bloggers, Sharon Astyk and Miranda Edel, were extremely concerned about climate change and other impacts of overconsumption. (Astyk, who also happens to be a farmer, has since written several excellent books on food preservation and other aspects of sustainable living.)
Astyk and Edel had read a book by George Monbiot titled HEAT: How To Stop the Planet from Burning. Monbiot, a journalist and climate activist, asserted that in order to avert global climate disaster, the wealthy industrial nations needed to reduce their footprint by an average of 90%. (Actually Monbiot said 94%. The Riot for Austerity movement adopted 90% as its initial target for simplicity’s sake.) He contended that this was doable, and he set forth recommendations. Monbiot’s suggestions were focused on the realm of big government and corporations in regard to regulation, policy reform, and technological advancement.
When I got around to reading Monbiot’s book, all of his recommendations made sense to me. He wrote in a very level-headed manner and supported his assertions with data. I really appreciated the book! But at the same time, I was a bit disappointed in it because I was expecting it to include Monbiot’s own personal lifestyle practices, based on the numbers he suggested. I wanted to know what a 90% reduction lifestyle looked like in real life. All I had was my own version, which, as I’ve mentioned, wasn’t based on any hard data.
(Fast-forward to 2018: DEEP GREEN is the book I was looking for 10 years ago. I’m revealing my personal account of what it looks like to live at 10% of the average U.S. footprint. Since that book didn’t exist, I wrote it!)
Anyway, back to the Riot founders Sharon Astyk and Miranda Edel. These two women took it upon themselves to translate Monbiot’s recommendations into personal actions that they, as everyday people, could take. They did meticulous research to gather the U.S. average figures and compute the Riot target values. The numbers are grouped in seven categories, each reflecting everyday needs such as electricity, water, and food. You’ll find those numbers in the next section and you’ll get a chance to calculate your own.
In his book, Monbiot points out that “Nobody ever rioted for austerity!” Astyk and Edel adopted “Riot for Austerity” as the tagline for their personal experiment, which ended up turning into a grassroots movement. At one point, several thousand people, in a number of countries, were participating. (As I mentioned, Astyk and Edel were both bloggers. That’s how I and others found out about them and got inspired to join the Riot.)
Astyk summarizes the spirit of the Riot as follows:
Someone, we agreed, had to take the very first steps to conquering the underlying doubt that we can change. Someone had to do the basic work of establishing a vision of a life in the Global North that doesn’t include conspicuous consumption of energy. More importantly even, as long as we felt that our response to climate change and energy depletion had to wait on policy measures – to wait for the high-speed rail lines and superinsulated new homes, to wait for carbon credits or whatever, we would not act. We needed to find a way to show that you can act right now – and make not a little tiny difference by carrying your cloth bag, but a big and measurable one – a change that nobody else thought was possible.
We stole from George Monbiot the wonderful line “Nobody ever rioted for austerity!” He was right – no population in human history has marched and demonstrated to have less. We figured we’d be the first.
Miranda and I set out to document our project and spend a year reducing our energy consumption by 90% over the average American’s. What we didn’t expect was that first dozens, then hundreds, and by the end, several thousand people joined us. We had expected to struggle. We hadn’t expected to find community, and most of all, to have fun. Perhaps we should have, though – as historian Timothy Breen has shown, rituals of non-consumption replace rituals of consumption and are as satisfying to most people as the consumption. That is, while during wartime, people might miss meat or sugar or drives in the country, that the communal exercise of substitution becomes a good in itself – so exchanging recipes for cakes that use less sugar and playing cards instead of taking drives becomes just as satisfying when you are acting together for a collective purpose.(6)
A Pleasant Surprise
When I found out about the Riot and started doing it, I got an extremely pleasant surprise. I saw that I could reach the targets without making any big changes from the way I was already living!
In some categories I was near the targets; in some categories I was already there; and in some categories (food and gasoline) I was somewhat above the Riot targets. With this information and support, I found it easy to make progress.
Overall, the Riot took a load off my shoulders, because when I was living my “best guess” life, I didn’t know what to aim for and didn’t know where to stop. I mention this because a lot of you who are very committed to living green might be in the same boat as I was: never feeling like you’re doing enough, and sometimes feeling burnt-out by it all.
When you have targets and a community, which you’re going to get in this chapter, you may find it a great relief! Things might actually get easier and more fun for you! And when things are easier and more fun for you, you’ll naturally transmit that to others in your attitude, which in turn will help to popularize an extreme-low-footprint lifestyle. I consider this “pleasant surprise” to be one of the key takeaways of this book.
Now for the Riot categories and targets…