Informed Hope

Someone who really knows what he’s talking about — believes there is still HOPE. The earth is in a death spiral, and radical action is required — but we can do it.

Article by George Monbiot, the climate activist whose book HEAT: How To Stop the Planet from Burning inspired the Riot for Austerity movement and planted the seed for my book DEEP GREEN.

The way humanity got itself into this deadly predicament is that we allowed waste, greed, denial to become baked-in to our way of living. Now, we can make a turnaround so that what’s baked-in to our culture is thrift, sharing, modesty, humility, intolerance of waste.

Also: Humanitarian innovativeness. Compassion. Empathy. Care of all species. A cultural shift so these qualities become infused in every action, no matter how seemingly small. Day in and day out, like the “home front” mobilization of World War II, except that this shift needs to be self-imposed at the grassroots because the higher-ups lack the political will.

Deep-green troops, mobilize! Everything good you do adds up.

A Match Made in Heaven

In my recent post Why Stuff Goes Bad, I pointed out that nothing ever sits around unused for long. Nature won’t allow it. Nature doesn’t hoard; and nothing in nature is trash.

We humans try to stockpile stuff in “nature-proof” containers, and that’ll work for a time but not forever. Prime example: Paint cans rust. The lids can even rust right through! And once the lids get rusty you have to be super careful opening the cans because rust-flakes fall into the paint. A little bit is no big deal but it’s not something I would want much of.

In my garage are a number of cans of paint left by the previous owners. Most are just small cans of the house colors, for touch-up painting. But yesterday I discovered I also had THREE GALLONS of white paint. Three full cans. And since it had been sitting around for awhile, the lids were rusty.

What prompted me to inventory my garage paint-shelf yesterday was that a friend who’s fixing up her storm-damaged house needed white paint. I expected to find maybe a gallon if I was lucky. Three gallons will probably be enough for her whole project.

It’s a match made in heaven! Two thrifty gals, both passionate about reuse and recycling, help each other out. The one with three full cans of unused paint (which are on the verge of “going bad” due to rusting lids) gets to clear space in her garage; the one working hard to fix up her home on a shoestring budget gets free paint.

Yep, a match made in heaven! Though it may seem like a small thing, both sides are thrilled. It would have been heartbreaking if all that paint had ended up getting ruined without ever being used.

(Not to mention, the disposal would have required special care, probably a trip to the dump or household chemicals drop-off station or something.)

How about you, have you had a “match made in heaven” lately, or noticed one in the world around you?

Weaning Ourselves Off Of Lawn Chemicals

Eliminating the use of lawn fertilizers near waterways should be a no-brainer. Fertilizers are a prime contributor to algal blooms, including red tide, which are deadly to wildlife and dangerous to humans. For the same reason, it should be a no-brainer that people would want to stop using pesticides and herbicides for residential lawns. As much as some people like their manicured green lawns, does the use of chemicals justify the mass die-offs of fish, birds, and other wildlife; and the pollution of our precious water supply?

The thing is, people who love their lawns can still have them! But, for the good of our rivers and lakes and oceans, we need to make some changes. We can choose more hardy, drought-tolerant grass species, and quit using chemicals for vanity agriculture. It would help if we’d let go of the culturally indoctrinated compulsion for the “perfect” uniformly green lawn, which I see as the green-colored equivalent of Snow White’s beautiful but poisonous red apple. We also really need to tackle the various regulations (municipal regulations, HOA rules, etc.) that pretty much FORCE people to have lawns in many parts of the USA.

Besides laying off the chemicals, lawn-lovers can also help our wildlife and waterways by planting a “filtration strip” of vegetation along the edges of their yards. This buffer of vegetation helps retain silt, water, and nutrients on property rather than let them run off into the storm-drain systems and bodies of water. Besides being good for the environment, a border of vegetation looks nicer than a plain flat grass edge, and it can reduce or eliminate the need for fussy edging and blowing.

Further Reading:

Local Laws Ban Front-Yard Food Gardens: “Zoning, supporters contend, is intended to prevent conflicts and nuisances from arising. … But sometimes, as in the case of the prohibitions on edible gardens … zoning itself becomes the nuisance and the source of conflict. …Estimates of water savings vary, but most sources agree that fruit and vegetable gardens use less water than would a lawn in a comparable space. Those who want to live more sustainably often choose to grow some of their own food and find ways both to reduce their reliance on commercially bought food and lower their water use. Swapping out a lawn for an edible garden can help achieve both goals.”

Eco-friendly lawn alternatives: “On a gallon-for-gallon basis, power mowers are far more polluting than cars. …[L]awn-mower engines, per gallon of gas, contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars. Water runoff pollution is another downside: To keep turf perma-green and weedfree requires a cocktail of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides applied regularly via the irrigation system. …Every region and every ecology in this country has its own regionally native sods, which, with very little mowing or cutting, grow naturally as a turf.”

• Doing a search for “eco-friendly lawns,” I found this company that offers a “No-Mow Lawn Grass Seed”, which looks to be waterwise and not need chemicals.

The Miraculous Power of Self-Interest

I’m a huge fan of self-interest — when it’s harnessed in the service of the greater good. Even when self-discipline falters, when moral principles give in to fear or greed, and when government mandates fail, self-interest moves mountains. Self-interest is the Trojan horse I’m using to get people on board the low-footprint lifestyle movement.

And it’s looking like self-interest may finally win the day in the struggle to expand the supply of affordably priced urban housing. Young adults are having trouble finding affordable places to live near where the jobs are, and it’s partly because affluent baby boomers in urban areas are opposing efforts to create density and build new apartments near their single-family homes.

However, it turns out that self-interest may win out over this NIMBYism, as the older generations are discovering to their dismay that their kids and grandkids can’t afford to live near them.

Another common concern that’s bridging the divide is the environment: “As people of all ages work for environmental sustainability, they understand that we need to get people out of cars, and this means getting as many people as possible to live in or close to cities and use public transport. And that means making those areas more affordable.” (From When Millennials Battle Boomers Over Housing, article by Mimi Kirk on — great site to bookmark if you’re passionate about urban sustainability).

Hooray for self-interest, when it fuels the greater good.

Further Reading:

Minneapolis YIMBYs Go To the Mat for Zoning Changes. I love the use of the wrestler video to tell a compelling story. And the Canadian anti-sprawl poster, a takeoff on the old Smokey the Bear posters, is a winner!

Neighbors For More Neighbors, on Twitter: a movement to promote the legalization (or re-legalization) of fourplexes. One user commented that “replacing a single-family home with a fourplex has a bigger climate impact than solar panels.” I’m not sure of the figure, but there’s no doubt that sharing walls and a yard and other resources is one of the best ways to reduce footprint while cutting costs.

• And a couple of good books I’ve read recently: Unlocking Home: Three Keys to Affordable Communities, by Alan Durning (takeaway: allow more density). And (the cautionary flipside of revitalizing blighted downtowns) How To Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, by Peter Moskowitz.

Tips, Encouragement, and Community

I find it very helpful to see the specifics of how other people are implementing a low-footprint lifestyle. And it’s fun to share such specifics! Today’s photo shows me rinsing off the grater after grating carrots and ginger to add to a spicy vegetable smoothie. I catch the food particles and rinse-water in one of those thick waxy plastic bags that are used to line cereal boxes nowadays. (I’ve used this bag over and over for months, mainly as a shopping bag for hot peppers or other small veggies from the farmer’s market). Once the grater is clean, I dump the contents of the bag outside to water and feed the yard. In this way the food particles and water become a resource, rather than a mess that needs to be washed down the drain (and quite probably clog the drain, since I have no garbage disposal nor do I want one — garbage disposals invite people to treat fruit peelings and other resources as waste).

Although I enjoy sharing these kinds of tips (and hearing other people’s), you may have noticed that my posts aren’t focused all that much on “how-to”. Rather, I put more emphasis on mindset. There are two reasons for this:

1) People’s living circumstances, backgrounds, and priorities are many and varied. Rather than share an endless disjointed list of tips that may not be relevant to you, it’s more effective for me to convey a “low-footprint mindset” and encourage you to implement that mindset in your own unique way. You will then, just by being yourself, go on to exert a beneficial influence on people of similar background and circumstances to yours, who I would never be able to reach if I were merely sharing a laundry list of my own green lifestyle tips.

2) I firmly believe that the best asset is a positive attitude. (I’m not talking about phony “positive thinking”; I’m talking about a positive attitude that’s firmly rooted in practical reality.) To help you cultivate a positive attitude, I offer a lot of encouragement. After extended observation I’ve come to believe that encouragement is really the main thing most people need. Most people I talk with nowadays are attempting to live their own version of a green lifestyle already, and they just need some emotional support to keep going. Although “green” is a hot buzzword these days, low-footprint living is still counterculture, especially in the USA. And choosing a lifestyle outside the mainstream, even for noble reasons, takes a lot of stamina and courage. Thus I offer you steady doses of encouragement.

Besides tips and encouragement, people need a tribe; a community of likeminded people. This goes double for people choosing a path outside the mainstream. I’m attempting to create a community around my book and blog. But I also want to be sure you all know about the Riot for Austerity community online. We have two main channels right now:

• The Riot for Austerity group on Facebook has been our main channel for the past few years.

• Recently, one of our longtime members pointed out that Facebook is rather high-bandwidth and therefore high-footprint. And so we’ve reactivated our email group, the 90 Percent Reduction Yahoo Group. This group started back around 2007 but went dormant after our Facebook group was launched. As of last week, our Yahoo group is active again!

Join either or both of these groups to connect with a wide variety of people from all over the world who are practicing the 90 Percent Reduction lifestyle (also known as the Riot for Austerity). You’ll get far more information and inspiration than I alone can provide. You’ll find good company and get a feel for just how committed our little grassroots movement is.

One of the longtime members of the Riot movement started a Self-Introduction thread on the rekindled Yahoo group as a practical icebreaker. So far in this thread, I’ve seen low-footprint pointers on home insulation, water savings, bandwidth conservation, weddings, and more. (A couple of different members each shared their own version of how they were able to have the wedding of their dreams for $100!) It’s lovely to hear personal stories and get a feel for the many and varied versions of a low-footprint life.

See you in the community! And thanks so much for allowing me, and this website, to be a part of your resource base for low-footprint living.

Why Stuff Goes Bad

Did you ever think about why stuff goes bad? Food rots in the fridge; clothes mildew; houses left unoccupied collapse in on themselves.

The truth is, stuff doesn’t really “go bad”; that’s just a limited human viewpoint. Stuff “goes bad” because nature makes no waste. Nature makes no waste, and nature allows no waste. Something that appears (through human eyes) to be going bad, is actually not going bad; it’s being used by something, whether animal, plant, or microbe. Resources don’t sit around; they get consumed.

Which is one more great reason to right-size your living space; and to avoid hoarding excess food, clothing, houses, land, and other things that nature (including “pests” and “weeds”) will find a use for if you leave them sitting around too long. I once had a beautiful leather jacket go moldy in the back of my closet, ruined beyond repair because I literally forgot about it. Fortunately, Mother Nature is far more careful and reverent of “stuff” than are many of us, her thoughtless human children. Something(s) ended up getting plenty of use out of that leather jacket.

It occurred to me just now that knowledge and experience can also “go bad” if not used. Find a way to share your knowledge and experience, or it withers inside of you and dies with you.

How many examples of this can you find in your home, neighborhood, workplace, or just out and about?

Midterm Elections; and Creative Living

What’s up with these pics? I’ll explain later in this post. But first, a word about the midterm elections.

The local candidates that my neighbors and I were rooting for and worked hard to support, did not get elected.

The eco-conscious and responsible-development candidates in the next town over, and in the county, who I would’ve voted for if I’d been able to vote in those districts, lost also.

Most of them lost by respectable margins of 5% or less, and some by quite narrow margins, indicating that there’s a lot of public support for the ideas “our” candidates built their platforms on. Protecting the environment, attracting responsible development, supporting small local business, valuing historic architecture, and so on.

And, what I always say about elections is: No matter who wins, we will all still wake up tomorrow and have to work together. So, although the candidates I was rooting for didn’t get in anywhere, I will still be me, showing up at meetings, writing emails, and all that. Most of all, I will be looking for common ground. ALWAYS. Because there ALWAYS IS common ground.

The person who got elected to City Commission in my zone did not seem to have a platform. If she had one, my neighbors and I didn’t hear about it. And she sent out some cheaply insulting mailers. But obviously a lot of people, including some of my friends, think highly of her. I will find out what my new Commissioner cares about, focus on her as a fellow human being, seek common ground, and work through channels, the way water finds channels (or creates channels!) as it flows.

Because we are ALL STILL HERE, and what’s the alternative? Non-participation? Or just trying to tear down “the powers-that-be”? Nope, not an alternative, neither one of those. Whenever I observe waste, destruction, foolishness, or just plain limited thinking, I will continue to call it out, but in the most constructive possible way, always seeking to offer a better alternative rather than merely disparage what the powers-that-be are doing.

And I hope you will do the same, whatever you feel about the election results. The world is always in need of good ideas, better design, better alternatives. Share your ideas whenever possible, as publicly as possible, through whatever channels you feel comfortable sharing. And most important, LIVE your better ideas to the fullest extent possible.

That’s what’s so great about the low-footprint lifestyle movement: We get to take charge and LIVE our best version of the world we want to create. Day in and day out, we get to vote with our wallets and our sharpened minds, for millions of choices, without regard to who is or isn’t elected.

Every day I vote for walkability by patronizing establishments that are in walking distance, even if I have to pay a few bucks extra. (It ends up being less in the long run or even in the short run.) I vote for beauty by living in historic neighborhoods. I vote for forests and wetlands by planting trees in my yard.

On the subject of living what we prefer, and casting our vote each day, today’s photos show a new creation of mine. This is my micro-studio, which some of you may have seen in previous posts, but this week I made a major addition to it: I turned it from just my art and writing studio/office, into my entire living space including sleeping area and clothing storage. Basically, I have created a tiny house within my 988-square-foot house! This thrills me to no end.

I got the idea just recently. It struck me very strongly that while I adore my house and hope to grow old here, I still yearned for the compact functionality and bohemian paisley genie-bottle feel of my little RV that I lived in years ago in south Austin, or the many “roomettes” I’ve created in shared apartments over the years. So … I have now simply created a tiny house or roomette inside my house, even though the “normal” thing to do when you own a house is occupy one of the bedrooms.

The bed (a sturdy but still lightweight cot*) easily leans up against the wall in daytime and becomes the storage rack for my pillow, blankets. I felt exhilarated as soon as I moved the cot in and figured things out. Now all my pens, notebooks and other supplies are in one room. No more having to wander across the house into a separate bedroom to see if I left my water-glass or writing supplies there during the night. (I know 988 square feet doesn’t give me far to have to wander, but the feel was sort of sprawl-y and unappealing to my aesthetic.) Now things are cute, compact, tightened-up, reachable. It’s energizing and (to me) beautiful.

At night, when I’m lying on the cot, I can look out the door and see the sky. Because this micro-room happens to have its own door to the outside (it opens to my fenced backyard). So it really does feel like having a tiny house or RV in my own backyard!

And, as the icing on the cake, I now have TWO big bedrooms available for guests and roommates, rather than just one! Living with other people reduces everyone’s eco-footprint through reduced financial overhead, and through sharing of household resources such as a fridge, dishes, tools.

The dimensions of my tiny house-within-a-house are 6-1/2 by 7-1/2 feet. Somehow it seems larger, at least 8 by 10!

I wrap this post up with a bit of advice: Vote with your hands and feet; vote for the world YOU want, no matter how wild or weird it might seem from a mainstream viewpoint. Create it; live it. The world needs your creative expression.

* Thanks B! (A shout-out to my dear friend who left the cot with me in the course of his travels)