Virtuous Cycles

Reducing your footprint can help you free up time in your schedule. (For example, by downsizing possessions you can get rid of your storage unit. A friend of mine is doing this and will be saving himself $5,000 a year! This reduces the amount of time you need to spend working to meet your financial overhead.) One great use of that freed-up time is to stop and chat with a neighbor who’s passing by. So many people living the harried modern life can’t spare a few minutes to even meet their neighbors, and we all lose out. Taking back our time is a good step to rebuilding the frayed fabric of our communities.

Yes, reducing your footprint gives you more time to forge ties with your neighbors. And conversely, connecting with neighbors can help you further reduce your footprint, because people who are socially bonded tend to share more resources (tools, transportation, ideas, helping hands…).

It’s a virtuous cycle! A good kind of reverse catch-22.

Eco-Fail! Oh no!

Sometimes it can be depressing out there! Watching fellow humans expend inordinate amounts of time, labor, and money to solve “problems” that are either not really problems, or else the “cure” is worse than the problem.

• At a public building, city workers deploy huge earth-moving equipment to rip out a clump of lush healthy shrubs and other vegetation, in order to install irrigation on its property so it can plant a bunch of fancy landscape plants … even though the existing vegetation had been growing perfectly well there for decades with zero irrigation. 

• At a fast-food coffee shop, a customer finds his coffee cup sticky to the touch, and smelling perfumey, because the employees use a hand-sanitizer that’s scented and leaves a sticky residue. (Hmm, I’d rather risk a few  germs, thanks.) 

• At a community trash cleanup, 100 eager citizens turn out. (Yay!) They pick up a lot of trash … but the cleanup event also generates a lot of trash, as each participant is given a fresh, thick plastic garbage bag, as well as a pair of rubber gloves. (I never did get the whole rubber-glove thing. When someone offers me those, I say, “No thanks, my hands are washable.”) I wonder how many boxes of rubber gloves and thick plastic garbage bags are consumed in a typical “community street cleanup.” 

I could go on but you get the idea. (And probably you could cite many more examples.) As I see it, these “eco-fails” are micro (because they’re hardly on the level of the BP oil spill or other full-blown environmental disaster), yet they are also macro (because they are endemic to our culture; they go on all the time in many places).

Lately I try not to get too worked up about things like this. I do what’s in my power to educate people and present alternatives. (At a recent community cleanup, I used my own bag, which I had found as trash on an empty lot. In my city, I take every opportunity to speak up about options for saving money and conserving water in our landscaping.)

What gets me down more than other people’s eco-fails is my own personal ones. Forgetting my reusable cup but not being willing to forgo a coffee-shop treat, so I generate a disposable cup. Buying a plastic bubble-wrap mailer by mistake, and not realizing til it’s too late. (Oh the irony, shipping out my DEEP GREEN book in a plastic mailer! Dear buyer, if you are reading this, mea culpa!)

Those are tiny; there are many many larger ways in which I fall short of my own eco principles. Taking multiple airline flights last year. Buying a couple of new purses I didn’t really need. Eating processed foods. Buying foods that come in non-recyclable packaging. Accepting a car ride that’s out of someone’s way because I didn’t want to get on my bicycle in cold weather.

Update: Here is my latest one; happened just yesterday. Waitress brings my friend & me glasses of water with ice even tho we had asked for no ice. (We did remember in time to ask for no straw.) I got engrossed in conversation with my friend, wasn’t paying attention to the water glasses, and before I knew it, our (kind, well-intentioned) server went and *dumped out the glasses of icewater* and brought us ice-free water. Ouch! REALLY my bad there!

And those are just the ones I know about. Who knows what I’m doing that I think is OK now, but that I will in hindsight realize was an ECO-FAIL. 

What helps is to remind myself that my prevailing practices and mind-set count for more than the “fails.” (And as far as trying to anticipate future hindsight … Don’t go there! That is brain-spaghetti.)

A big part of my motivation for writing DEEP GREEN was to show people that they can live a very green life, sufficient to restore ecological balance to the planet, without having to be “perfect” or anywhere close to perfect. I see way too many good-minded people beat themselves up for a plastic bottle, a fast-food meal, or an unnecessary car trip, when what matters is what we do over the long haul and how we help shift the culture. “Duration Station,” as my deep-green mermaid friend Ro would say. 

So! If you find yourself beating yourself up for what you see as an “eco-fail,” stop! If you can do something differently in that moment, great — do it. If you can help your city leaders, coffee-shop owner, or others see the value in a more earth-friendly approach, do that. If not,  just move forward, knowing you are doing your best. And thank you for caring! 

By the way, speaking of coffee shops, I just heard some good news: The Dunkin Donuts chain is phasing out plastic and styrofoam, and going back to paper cups and packaging. Woohoo! (My pal CB, who is a frequent DD customer, brightened my morning with these lovely green tidings.) I’m going to try and dig up a link for you and, if I find one, will paste it here shortly. OK, found it! Here you go:

Good Start Packaging Blog: Dunkin’ Donuts Phasing Out Styrofoam is an Environment Win:The future of the environment looks a little brighter after Dunkin’ Donuts announced it is phasing out the use of polystyrene foam cups for its hot beverage products.  Dunkin’ Donuts said their more than 9,000 U.S. restaurants will shift to Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard certified paper cups by the year 2020. According to Dunkin’ Donuts, the corporate shift will remove approximately 1 billion foam coffee cups from the waste system each year, which equates to more than 79 cups-per-minute.”

Important corrections to DEEP GREEN book

If you bought my book direct through me in the early days, you may have received an email notice of important corrections. But since I do not have the email addresses of everyone who bought the book, not everyone received that email. I have also posted a notice on my Facebook page (Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak). This blog post is another effort to reach anyone who may have fallen through the cracks.

If you purchased the book direct through me in the past 2-3 months, you most likely got a hand-corrected copy of the book. (Woohoo, a veritable collector’s item!) I’m now down to the last 40 or so of my print copies of the book. Anyone ordering direct from me will receive a hand-corrected version while supplies last.

Unfortunately I don’t know of a way to contact people who ordered my book via Amazon (either ebook or print version). I’m getting ready to start the process of updating the book on Amazon to include the corrections (as well as some other, more minor corrections — commas where a semicolon is needed, missing hyphens, and so on). I’m not sure how long the Amazon updating process will take.

In the meantime, by way of attempting to reach as many readers as possible, I’m posting the corrections on this blog. Here are the essential corrections to the book (also shown in the photos above):

Page 27: This sentence needs to be inserted: “Actually Monbiot said 94%. The Riot for Austerity adopted 90% as its initial target for simplicity’s sake.” The sentence goes after this one: “… 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%.”

Page 45-46: Four instances of the word “composting toilet”; the correct term is “compost toilet.” (Thanks to Joseph Jenkins Joseph Jenkins, Inc. (author of the Humanure Handbook among many other books about sustainable living) for educating us about the distinction!)

Page 51: US Average household electricity consumption says 1,100 kWh per month; should read 900 kWh per month.

My heartfelt thanks to all who have bought my book so far. It’s been wonderful hearing back from some of you about how you are putting it to use in your life. And I hope my Deep Green book will continue to save you lots of money, time, and your precious personal energy while helping the planet.

When It’s Warmer Outside than In

Brr! Chilly weather, even here in Florida. But have you ever noticed that sometimes after a few days of cold weather, there comes a sunny day and you suddenly notice that it’s warm out — that it’s actually warmer outside than it is in your house? It catches you off guard; it’s a nice surprise. That happened to me today.

If I were still in the habit of using a heater (which I haven’t been for some years), yesterday and last night would definitely have been a time I’d have cranked the heat up. And would have kept it cranked up this morning. Instead, after a couple of hours of work, huddled at my computer in my down vest, long knit skirt, and other layers that make up my wintertime home-office working attire, I walked outside around 10:00 and noticed it was really warm!

At noon I made my lunch and sat out on my little south-facing porch. As I sat in the sun, feeling the warm concrete against my back, a neighbor stopped by to chat. A butterfly came along to forage the flowers of the Spanish needle and aloe plants. Other neighbors passed by and browsed the Little Free Library.

Of course after lunch, I needed to get back into my office and do some more work. But even though it was still chilly indoors, the temperature felt warmer somehow, not so bottomlessly cold. I find that a lot of times, temperature is almost as much psychological as it is physical. And of course I’d just fueled my body and absorbed a bunch of sunlight, which surely helped.

If I had been one to just crank up the heat when I felt cold, I’d have missed a really nice part of the day! Feeling the sun kissing my head and shoulders, the warmth radiating from the concrete; visiting with my neighbors; enjoying nature.

So that’s one of my favorite tips for low-footprint living: Notice when it’s warmer outside than in. (Or in the case of hot summer weather, notice when it’s cooler outside than in.) And go outside, and enjoy!

Turning Problems Into Assets

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Can you imagine being able to take that approach to all of your problems, or even a sizable percentage of them? It would be a much-improved world! Fortunately this is a mind-set anyone can cultivate: the mind-set of turning problems into assets.

In my field, permaculture design, we express this mind-set as “Obtain a yield” or “Turn problems into solutions.” One of the best illustrations of this principle is the “snail problem” story that’s told in permaculture classes. As the story goes, a property owner was having a problem with snails, and consulted a permaculture designer for help. The permaculture designer told the property owner, “You don’t have a snail problem; you have a duck deficiency!” In other words, what seems like a “pest” is actually a resource (in this case, food for ducks). (Side note: The permaculture designer in this story was Bill Mollison, who founded the permaculture design movement back in the late 1970s together with fellow Australian David Holmgren.)

Once you start thinking along these lines, you start to see opportunities all around you for turning problems into assets. (Many of you already do this, either because you’re trained in permaculture design or because you’re just naturally smart and creative.) Food scraps become compost; a know-it-all student gets enlisted as an unofficial assistant teacher.

Here are just a few recent examples I’ve noticed around me:

• A neighboring city is considering discontinuing its recycling program, and there is talk that my city and others may follow. As an everyday person, I can obtain a yield by taking the opportunity to ruthlessly eliminate single-use-packaged foods from my diet (such products were costing me a lot of money, and also keeping excess weight on me, so my yield is a slimmer body and more money to spend on better things). I can also increase my repertoire of crafts that repurpose old packaging. Or, if I’m a local manufacturer, I can obtain a yield by developing a product made from throwaway cans or bottles. I’ve heard of textiles, decking materials, park benches and other products that were made of material from single-use containers. Or, as a community activist/neighborhood organizer, I can set up a “free store” in my garage. The empty jars and bottles can be used to hold items such as buttons, hardware, thread. The containers themselves would also be offered as a store item. (One person’s trash is another person’s just-right container!) The main yield from a “free store” is neighborhood friendship and community cohesion, as well as possibly cleaner sidwalks.

• A neighbor child is pulling out some plants along my fence. I can solve the problem by sternly telling him to stop. Or, I can obtain a yield by saying hi, introducing myself, asking his name, saying I’m happy to meet him, and explaining that the plants are food for bees and butterflies so they need to be left alone. The yield is multi-fold: increased community awareness, child nurturance (it takes a village!), and friendship ties. (And that neighbor kid has been a friend ever since! Always stops and says hi to me.)

• I wake up in an utterly desolate state of mind for no external reason. (I have a rather wide range of moods and feelings, so that is something that happens!) I can “solve” the problem (get myself out of the desolate mood at least temporarily) by distracting myself with some substance or recreational activity. Or, I can obtain a yield by utilizing these emotions as material in a novel I’m writing. “Hey! This is exactly the kind of feelings that my character would be having in her situation!” With the “obtain a yield” mindset, a dark mood is transformed into something of great value. Fiction gold! (And as I write, the feeling of desolation gives way to happier feelings, such as gratitude, joy for a new day, satisfaction of engaging in creative work.)

Permaculture design (like sustainability in general) is at least as much about the inner landscape as it is about the outer. As these examples illustrate! Can you think of some examples from your own life, of how you’ve obtained a yield (or could do so in future) rather than merely stopping a problem?

Further Exploration

If you liked this post, you might enjoy studying the permaculture design principles in depth. This page by Deep Green Permaculture offers a brief overview of some design principles. Also, you might consider taking a permaculture design class. It’s truly a life-enriching experience; it pays for itself quickly; and the benefits will ripple out into your community.

Permaculture Design Courses in central Texas: Austin Permaculture Guild

Permaculture Design Courses in Florida: Grow Permaculture

(The above links are where I have personal and professional ties. But regardless of where you live, do a search on “Permaculture Design Certificate Course” and you are likely to find something near you. If you don’t find anything in your area, contact me and I’ll do my best to help.)

Also, there are a number of permaculture design certificate courses offered online these days. The online course I recommend is the Permaculture Women’s Guild course, taught by a team of 40 instructors from around the world. In addition to the standard 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate, you also earn an advanced certificate in Social Permaculture Design.

Small Things Count

Sometimes with this blog I worry that my suggestions go too far to be appealing to most people (fridgeless experiments, doing without heat, etc.). Other times, I feel the suggestions might be too obvious and therefore not inspiring. The truth is, though, everything we do with the intention of living more gently and respectfully on the earth counts, even the things that seem small.

In that spirit, I would like to share a win with you. Over the past few months I’ve been making a point of buying packaged snacks less often. One thing I love is tortilla chips. Lately instead of buying them at the store and ending up with a (non-recyclable, non-compostable) bag, I’ll go to my favorite Mexican restaurant, where they make their chips in-house. That’s Part 1 of the win: cutting out the non-recyclable bag, plus supporting a local business and of course getting to eat tasty, warm, fresh-made chips.

Part 2 happened last night when I remembered in time that they always put the guacamole in a styrofoam container. (The chips are served in the restaurant’s reusable basket, which is lined with paper.) Last night I asked them to just put the scoop of guacamole in the middle of the basket, on top of the chips. Worked like a charm! I could grab a chip off the side of the basket and dip it into the scoop of guacamole. No separate styrofoam container needed. Then after enjoying my feast, I brought the paper basket-liner home to compost. Another great thing about eating chips at a restaurant is it becomes more of an occasional special treat, rather than a more frequent “run down to the convenience store” temptation.

Small things add up. Here’s another small thing: You know those mesh bags that produce sometimes comes in? Little plastic mesh bags of tangerines or potatoes or whatever. I don’t buy my produce in those bags but sometimes we get them at church, or a guest brings one to my house. Well, those plastic mesh bags make good pot-scrubbers and sink-scrubbers! And they last a long time. I just used one to scrub my kitchen sink today.

What “small things” have you been doing in your life? And what have the benefits been? Do you ever notice a burst of creative energy and inner satisfaction after doing one of these small things? I know I do! Not the kind of satisfaction that turns into complacency, but the kind of satisfaction that encourages me to keep going.

Outdoor Dishwashing Station

I started out washing dishes outdoors to make it easier to collect water for my yard rather than let water go down the drain. Then I noticed other benefits, including: 1) getting to be outside more, have more opportunities to observe plants & wildlife in my yard; and 2) the indoor environment stays drier (less humid, less prone to damp yucky smells, less attractive to critters) when I mimimize running water indoors.

Photos show two different version of my setup. One is more smooth and rectilinear; the other (my latest version) is more “rocky”-looking to go with the overall look of my shaded patio area. The “rocks” are chunks of concrete that I scavenged from curbside.

Concrete makes a great dish-drying surface. It wicks away moisture (which then evaporates); and it isn’t slippery, so dishes and plates stay put.

I have two water sources to choose from: well water (via the hand pump) or city water (via the faucet on the right). I also have rainbarrels but prefer to save that water for making coffee, for putting directly on the plants, for washing my skin, etc.

An outdoor dishwashing area can be set up with very little space. I even had one on my porch while I was living in an RV park. All in all, even on a cold day, I find dishwashing more pleasant if I can do it outdoors.

The dish liquid and washing-cloth are tucked into one of the niches in the cinder block beneath the dish-drying surface.

I wash dishes in the smallest container possible for the job (saves soap and water). Silverware gets washed in a mason jar if that’s all I’m washing. A full batch of dishes gets washed in a large oval-shaped pan that was originally designed as a baking dish (and can still be used for that purpose also).

My setup is a work in progress, not only in terms of functionality but also in terms of appearance. I’m a strong believer in PLAYING with the design of things. Having fun, trying various things, not getting uptight. Consumerist social norms put pressure on us to be perfect and get it magazine-pretty right off the bat. I’m unlearning that, having fun, and actually end up designing things that work better for me AND look great.

One of my favorite permaculture design principles is “Observe and interact.” In a nutshell, this means make your initial observations, try something, and then observe the feedback from your environment. Then make adjustments accordingly. It’s an iterative process that allows for much experimentation and fine-tuning. And it’s a very low-footprint approach, in contrast with the conventional approach of putting some huge change into place all at once. The latter approach is more vulnerable to failure, and when it fails, is likely to be more expensive.

I hope you allow yourself this kind of experimentation too, in creating and revising the systems that make up your everyday world. Let me know how it goes!