Solar Panel Possibilities

The sun … Source of (in effect) limitless free, clean energy! And isn’t it great that we have special gizmos called solar panels that can turn sunshine into electricity! These days I’m seeing more and more houses and other buildings with solar panels. And there seem to be an endless parade of ads urging homeowners to contact this or that solar company and find out how they can start producing free electricity for zero money down.

The conversion of sunlight into electricity by solar panels is called “solar photovoltaics.”

Although solar panels are touted as a way to get off of “dirty” electric-power sources such as coal and nuclear, there is no free lunch. The panels, as well as the batteries, themselves require energy to manufacture and transport. And they require materials such as heavy metals, the mining and disposal of which creates toxins in the environment.

In my book, I explain my decision not to have solar panels. Basically, my electricity use is so low (about 2% of the US average household’s when I’m by myself in the house, and less than 10% of the US average even when I have two housemates living with me) that getting solar panels would actually increase my household eco-footprint substantially.

However, I hear that a lot has changed in the solar PV world in the past few years. Solar panels and batteries have improved, and the panels have come down in price.

Up to this point, I have always concluded that solar panels would not improve my footprint. Still, out of curiosity, I have contacted a few solar companies over the past couple of years to explore the possibility of having panels. But, when I tell them my electricity usage, they quickly inform me it’s not worth it, I wouldn’t qualify for any rebates, etc.

But, although rebates are nice, I wouldn’t really be in it for the rebates.

This past Saturday at the farmers’ market, a solar company I’d never spoken with before had a booth. I had an extended conversation with the young man there, who was really interested in my low electricity use and is eager to look into my situation. He said it might turn out that it’s worth my investment.

My house does have a sun-drenched, south-facing roof in its favor. Potentially, it could generate quite a bit of power for the grid as well as for my household. The guy at the farmers’ market told me that in Florida, we are able to sell our surplus electricity to the power company. I had heard of other states where that’s allowed, but I did not know Florida was one.

Being able to sell surplus electricity is neat, but what’s really neat is the idea that a private individual can be generating electricity and feeding it to the grid, thus contributing, however fractionally, to an increase in the grid’s percentage of renewable energy.

Several fellow permaculturists around the state and the country have solar setups. One in particular, I really trust her judgment, so I plan to have a chat with her about her thoughts on the eco impact.

That nice guy from the solar company is coming soon to check out my place for solar-panel potential. I will let you know the outcome!

I have serious concerns about the eco footprint of the panels and associated stuff. But I realized it’s time for me to get a better grasp of these details, and I think a visit from a solar company is a great next step. And hey, if all goes well, it’ll be neat to have a sun-powered house!

A final note: I do not recommend “off-grid” systems. Off-grid systems require massive banks of batteries, and I want to minimize batteries because of their eco footprint. Also, off-grid systems, by definition, are not able to produce power for the collective use. Grid-tied is my choice, whether I stay with my conventional setup or end up getting solar panels. Of course, for some people living in rural areas, grid-tied may not be an option. But, I just want to caution against this romanticized idea of “living off-grid with solar panels” as some eco-friendly, permaculture ideal. It isn’t necessarily eco-friendly, and it’s actually more fragile and vulnerable than being grid-tied.

If you want to be really resilient, I recommend learning how to get by with little or no electricity. It doesn’t mean you have to live that way on a daily basis, but knowing how to do it is a great asset to your household and community.

Suggested action steps for anyone interested in solar PV:

• Contact every solar-power company that serves your area. All the ones I’ve talked to will come out and give a free estimate. There’s nothing to lose! Even if you’re an “electricity miser” like me, don’t automatically assume you’re not a candidate. Be sure and include the smaller, local companies in your search, as they might be more willing to take on a less-profitable job.

• Reduce your everyday electricity needs, so it’ll be more feasible to meet your needs with solar or other renewables. Even if you find out panels aren’t worth it for you, the benefits of needing hardly any electricity are enormous. Including that tiny bill; and also the peace of mind that comes from feeling less vulnerable to power outages since you don’t need electricity for every little thing.

How To Avoid Ending Up with a House Full of Plastic Bags

If you’re like me, you do your best to avoid plastic bags, but you end up with a house full of them anyway. There are the plastic bags I get because I forgot to specify “no bag”; the ones I got because the merchant is used to putting everything in bags automatically even though we say “No bag please”; and the ones that are almost impossible to avoid unless we are willing to forgo entire categories of food, because so many foods come packaged in plastic.

Still, it is worth doing our best to avoid them, especially the flimsy plastic grocery bags that are not good for reuse. (Some folks reuse them as trash-can liners, but trash cans don’t really need liners, as long as you are not throwing food scraps in your trash. Which you shouldn’t be, because food in the trash creates a heavy smelly mess. And, food scraps are way too useful to put in the trash.)

The less-flimsy, more durable types of plastic bags, the ones that come into our homes as packaging for food and other everyday goods, can at least be made into less of a cluttery nuisance. And can even be very useful in certain cases!

• I keep some folded in my canvas grocery-shopping bags, to use when buying small items such as small fruits & veggies, nuts or candy purchased in bulk, garlic cloves, etc.

• I use some in my kitchen utensil drawers and “junk drawers” to keep stuff separated into different categories (batteries, keys, twist-ties, plug adapters, etc).

• I use some to store condiment packets and other potentially sticky items, so my kitchen cabinets stay neater.

• I use some on my craft shelves to separate different categories of arts & crafts supplies; and on my tool shelves to separate different types of screws & other hardware.

• I use some to store different categories of clothing items such as socks, gloves.

• Inside a purse or hip-pouch, too, I use small plastic bags to store small objects such as my earphones, business cards, little notebook, etc., so they don’t get mushed or tangled with one another.

One good thing about using plastic bags to keep different types of stuff separated in a purse, drawer, etc., is that the plastic bag will last a long time that way, since it gets very little exposure to sun or other elements in that enclosed space.

Of course, we could always just adopt the conventional approach to plastic bags, which is just to accept them unthinkingly at the point of purchase, then throw them “away” after their intended single use. But we’re not going there!!! Because we all know There Is No “Away”!

What are some of your favorite tips for avoiding plastic bags, and for reusing the ones you can’t avoid?

Slacking Off for Personal and Planetary Benefit

My favorite green choices are ones that require zero money or extra effort. In a society that worships convenience, being able to offer people such choices is one key to popularizing low-footprint living.

Some green choices are actually easier and more convenient than the mainstream option. For example, I’ve been telling people for a while now that one of the best ways to reduce our energy footprint is to back off on the fussbudget landscaping practices. Mow half as often; quit edging and leafblowing altogether. In other words, be lazy! And now, come to find out, “lazy landscaping” is an actual trend — reported by Southern Living magazine, no less!

Another “lazy” trend I just now heard about: Since the pandemic shutdowns, some people are taking fewer baths and showers — and are liking the results! Less-dry skin; a bit of freed-up time; less consumption of shampoo and other products that come in wasteful plastic bottles.

Now, those of you who love taking baths and showers, I am not trying to spoil your pleasure or hygiene! If you love daily showers, keep on enjoying them. There are plenty of other ways for you to cut your eco footprint. But if you are among the secret tribe of rebels who’ve been bathing just weekly or twice-weekly for some years now, you can take satisfaction in the knowledge that it’s becoming more socially acceptable. We (yes, I’m one of the rebels) don’t have to hide in the shadows anymore!

Not all eco angels are models of asceticism and self-denial. Some of us are just slackers at heart, who have learned to use our laziness as a force for good.

So what are some of your favorite green choices that make a virtue of laziness?

Further Reading:

• “Landscaping trends have gone the way of low maintenance and climate-friendly. ‘Beautiful and traditionally prized flowering plants such as hydrangeas and rhododendrons have fallen out of favor due to the fact that they demand constant watering and maintenance … Roses, while beautiful, require regular pruning and feeding and sometimes spraying.’ … Homeowners are opting for native plants and pollinator gardens over anything that puts further strain on the planet’s natural resources … Over the last few years, between the series of droughts and longer workdays, people have begun to appreciate lower-maintenance style gardens. We may be spending more of our days at home, but that doesn’t mean we have more time on our hands. Homeowners want landscaping options that don’t pile onto their already heavy workloads.” (“4 Landscaping Trends On Their Way Out, According to Real-Estate Agents.” Lauren Wellbank, Apartment Therapy.)

• “…this year gardeners ‘will turn a blind eye to a bit of browning in summer’ and perhaps even swap out grass in favor of embracing ‘lazy’ fuss-free groundcovers. These ‘interesting and environmentally benign alternatives,’ not only stay green without fertilizer, but resist drought and can encourage more wildlife. Unfortunately, while we’ve all learned to love grass, keeping those immaculate green lawns isn’t great for the environment. … lawns consume nearly three trillion gallons of water a year, 200 million gallons of gas (for all that mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides. … Replacing a grass lawn doesn’t even require swapping plants. Laying walkways out of gravel or bark, building patios, creating a gathering place around a fire pit, or adding a gazebo also means less lawn and less lawn care. So this year consider a ‘lazy lawn’ that will be easier for you, better for the planet, and just might make the neighbors jealous.” (“‘Lazy Lawns’ Are Topping the Garden Trends for 2021.” Melissa Locker, Southern Living.)

• “Some people said they started bathing less during the pandemic. As long as no one complains, they say they plan to keep the new habit … Robin Harper, an administrative assistant at a preschool on Martha’s Vineyard, grew up showering every day. … But when the coronavirus pandemic forced her indoors and away from the general public, she started showering once a week. The new practice felt environmentally virtuous, practical and freeing. And it has stuck. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ said Ms. Harper, 43, who has returned to work. ‘I like showers. But it’s one thing off my plate. I’m a mom. I work full-time, and it’s one less thing I have to do.'” … After the British media reported on a YouGov survey that showed 17 percent of Britons had abandoned daily showers during the pandemic, many people on Twitter said they had done the same.” (“See Fewer People. Take Fewer Showers.” Maria Cramer, New York Times.)

Living Deeply with the Reality of Climate Change

How do we avoid becoming bogged down in overwhelm and hopelessness — yet also avoid falling into toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing? How do we avoid false hope, yet still find ways to enjoy life? How do we fully face things, while fully living? It’s a dance for sure, an ongoing navigational challenge.

And how perfect that I would run across THIS article, “Finding Lightness Of Being In the Midst of Climate Change,” just now —

The author’s inner/outer journey sounds strikingly similar to mine, but she expresses with stunning skill and eloquence, in this one piece, a mind-set that I have expressed in less-eloquent bits & pieces here on this blog.

An excellent read — the author herself (Ami Chen Mills-Naim) shared it in a thread in the Deep Adaptation group* on Facebook earlier today. I won’t waste any words here; just go read it! I predict that you’ll be really glad you did.

* Deep Adaptation is a group I highly recommend to people who are into facing the big climate reality full-on — physically, emotionally, spiritually. I can’t seem to get Facebook to give me a link but if you just type “Deep Adaptation” into the search field in Facebook, you should be able to find and join the group. This is one of my top go-to groups for moral and emotional support; it’s listed in the permalinks in my blogroll.

Coexisting with “Pesky” Bugs

I wrote this post on NextDoor the other day in response to the annual panic about our prolific Florida grasshoppers known as “lubbers,” which start getting really plentiful every year at this time. But you could as well adapt this thinking to any maligned insect or other critter that lives in your bioregion.

Well, it’s that time of year again … the time when the Lubber grasshoppers start springing forth in their large numbers! Every year, NextDoor and Facebook are full of panicky posts from people who have just moved to Florida, are seeing these critters with their voracious and wide-ranging eating habits, and are worried that the bugs won’t leave a single leaf uneaten!

For those of us who prefer a non-chemical and/or nonviolent approach to nurturing our yards, the typical mainstream advice given in response can be alarming. “Kill kill kill, squash em, spray em” type of thing.

What are some things that have worked for you? What advice have you given people?

Here are some things I’ve learned and done, and I try to put the word out (but if a person is new to Florida, never seen these creatures, and are now watching their yard get demolished, it can be hard to listen).

  • I read that Lubbers are a Florida native. So I decided not to kill them.
  • My first year in my house, the lubbers did eat a lot of plants down to bones.
  • But, most of the plants grew back.
  • Also, my native plants don’t seem to get attacked to anywhere near the same degree as the nonnatives. They still get chewed, but not as much.
  • Also, I have heard that the lubbers make a good bait for fishing.* (Someone who’s an avid fisherman told me that the other day, that he has had great success with them as bait.)

Anyone else got any advice about coexisting peacefully with these prolific and ravenous yard-babies? Or dealing with them in a non-chemical manner?

*Another person pointed out that using the lubbers as fishing-bait isn’t nonviolent. I said that’s true, but that instead of killing the bugs for no reason, the guy was using them to catch his dinner so I thought that was OK.

(Postscript: After I made my post on NextDoor (and later, on Facebook), I was afraid that all the “kill kill kill spray spray spray” people were going to pile all over me. But instead, a lot of people who take a “live & let live” approach chimed in. Takeaway: When we speak up on behalf of nature, we empower others who are similarly minded to speak up also. And suddenly the mainstream voices don’t feel like such an overwhelming majority.)

Part 2: In response to my comment, a person on NextDoor asked, “Do you have this same ‘let the poor creatures live’ philosophy with all? Rats, mice, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, roaches and fleas.”

My response to him:

In general, I do my best not to kill stuff. Obviously we all kill things in order to feed ourselves. (Especially omnivores, which I am.) Also, we are all probably constantly stepping on bugs or other critters without intending to. It is what it is.

If rats are outside, I think of them as food for owls, eagles, snakes, etc. Everything is food for something.

If a flea or mosquito gets into my house (which once in a while one does), and bites me (which is how I find out it is in the house), I don’t feel too guilty about killing it. Especially fleas, because I don’t want them multiplying inside my house. (Mosquitoes don’t really have a good way to multiply in my house because I’m careful to not let water sit around.)

Outdoors, they are food for dragonflies, lizards, etc.

I react pretty badly to flea bites and mosquito bites (noseeums also), but I have learned the major ways to avoid getting bitten and I try to follow those. Long-sleeved light-colored clothes when sitting outdoors at dusk etc.

I do my best to manage the ecosystem of my yard so things stay in balance. In general, critters very very rarely get into my house. Their food is outdoors, and my house is pretty tight against critters who’d want to come in.

Palmetto bugs: they get in my house once in a while. My preferred approach is to catch them in a jar and put them outside. Not just because I care about creatures, but also because I would rather take a bug outside than squash it in my house and have a giant mess to clean up.

Rats, I understand that if people get a rat problem, they might need to call an exterminator. Same with bedbugs, termites — I’m not judging people if they need to take action when a creature we think of as a “pest” gets out of hand and it might be dangerous.

One time, a rat got into my house. It was pretty little when it first got in. I tried for months to catch it and put it outside. I was afraid it might attract a mate and then they’d have babies in my house etc. I ended up putting out poison and that killed it. I felt awful. If that happens again I will try to find a better solution. Worst-case scenario, the poisoned rat while still alive could have gotten outside, where an owl or something could have been poisoned by eating it.

Pardon this longwinded reply but I sense that your question was sincere and not just “baiting” me. (Fishing pun unintended – I see your fisherman slogan there 🙂 ).

BTW speaking of fish, once I learned that many of the chemicals we spray find their way into rivers, ocean, and other bodies of water, I became even more committed to avoiding chemicals to the best of my ability.

BTW i do not think of any creatures as “poor creatures.” I have respect for all of God’s creatures, even the ones I prefer not to have in my house!! In my field, permaculture design, one of the first things we learn is that every single living thing plays a role in ecosystem health.

My Wish for All Working People: Create Value from the “Pandemic Slack-Pocket”!

Yeah, the shaming of the worker classes is getting really old. “Lazy slackers!! Get back to work churning out mass quantities of goods and services to serve ‘the economy’!”

I know I’ve written about this topic often, but I can’t overemphasize how central it is to creating a sustainable society. For people and for the rest of the planet.

I personally hope the labor crunch ushers in an age of worker autonomy, and creative & occupational freedom. Decent pay is one element. But there are many other elements as well. Reasonable breaks during shift; ample time-accommodation for parents to take care of their kids without fearing loss of job; human schedule (a happy medium between zero hours and 60; reasonable notice of upcoming schedule, etc.) — that kind of thing. Nutshell: Treat employees as valued human beings, not machinery.

I respect the establishments that have reduced their hours to avoid overworking their existing staff. Everyone needs a break — including management too.

Here is my wish for everyone in the work force, whether currently employed, unable to find work, or not choosing to work at the moment. A note in advance: When I say “scrubbing floors,” etc., just so it’s clear, I believe that any form of work can be decent and honorable. I have done all kinds of work, from scrubbing floors and toilets to shoveling manure to hauling people around on a bicycle-taxi, to working a cash register to repairing clothes, and many other types of work, and have found dignity and joy and satisfaction in work of all kinds. This isn’t an anti-work speech; it’s a pro-worker speech.

If you’re a parent, may you find a way to stay home fulltime with your kids, if that’s what you want. May you find a way to only have to scrub floors or serve burgers or sling espresso two or three days a week, or one — or none!

Here is my wish for all of us, working people. May the stimulus payments, eviction embargoes, employer desperation, and other manifestations of the “pandemic slack-pocket” give you room to breathe, think, take stock.

May you, if you so desire, find an apprenticeship, classes, or other upward path to a trade that commands respect and allows you to write your own ticket.

If you’re an artist or writer or musician, may you find that you actually can pay your bills this way, and only have to mow lawns or clean houses two or three days a week, or one day a week — or not at all!

If you’re a restaurant worker, may you realize you can easily start your own micro kitchen, alone or with friends, and get by financially while having more say over your own time.

If you’re a metaphysical type, a philosopher, a meditator — may you find a way to spend most of your days channeling your mind in this way, and only have to drive Uber or deliver food or work in a warehouse a couple days a week — or none!

If you’re a writer or other creator, may you find a way to make the Patreon model work for you!

If you’re a landscaper or renovation contractor or painter, may you tap into better-paying clients so you don’t have to run yourself ragged.

If you’re an activist, may you find the leeway to spend as much time as you like engaged in your good work, freed of the necessity to spend most of your waking hours just working to make ends meet.

If there’s a business “pipe dream” you have, may you find the courage and wherewithal to make it a reality.

Whatever your chosen occupation is, may you find freedom and dignity in it. May you never have to put up with ridiculous nonsense like not even getting a 15-minute break on a 10-hour shift. Or being forced to risk your life during a pandemic because some politician labeled your industry an “essential” category.

May you find creative and occupational freedom. May you find your ideal right livelihood. Every occupation is needed in the world, just as every plant and animal has its place in the ecosystem.

On a related note: Some years back, I knew a couple who retired from a large rat-race metropolitan area to a more rural area. One thing they noticed about their new rural life, to their dismay, was that it was hard to get painters, renovators, or other contractors to come do work on their house during the prime hunting and fishing seasons.

I sympathized with my friends’ plight, but could easily see the other side of things.

1) When people can feed themselves without having to go out and hustle for money, they can afford to say no to work. Or they can afford to schedule work according to their own timetable.

2) When people’s cost of living is lower, they can afford to take more time to savor the things that they find meaningful.

Those “hard-to-get” contractors knew what time it was — literally!

I’ve said it about a bajillion times on this blog and will probably say it about a bajillion times more, because it’s so true: Cutting your overhead, to the extent that you are able, is the best way to gain occupational freedom and creative autonomy, not to mention peace of mind.

When you do it voluntarily and deliberately, with a higher goal or purpose in mind, cutting your living costs isn’t deprivation; it’s flat-out wealth creation. Most of us depend to a degree on government, employers/clients, landlords, corporations, centralized systems. But to the extent we can minimize that dependence, we create our own freedom and wealth.

Further Reading:

• “Between concerns around health risks and wages, many restaurant workers have used the pandemic as a chance to catch their breath and reevaluate their career paths. Others have used increased unemployment pay as a launch pad to create their own businesses. And some are just plain done with being political punching bags for angry customers.” (“Long hours, health risks and ‘ghost applicants’ lead to desperate staffing situations at Michigan restaurants”; Lindsay Moore, MLive.com)

• “I spent a day talking to servers and bartenders about the times that customers had asked them to remove their masks: The way the request was delivered as a flirt but landed as a threat. The fact that male customers might not realize how much power their demands had over the livelihoods of their female waitstaff — or worse, that they might be fully aware.” (“‘Take off your mask’: Boorish customers have found a way to make sexual harassment even more of a hazard”; Monica Hesse, washingtonpost.com)