Minimum Viable Product

Behold my new “kitchen counter area” (lower right quadrant of photos). I slapped it together yesterday from stuff I had lying around the house.

A concept I really find useful in minimizing my eco footprint, getting good stuff done in the world, and making life all-around more enjoyable is “Minimum Viable Product.” I first heard this term in the startup-business community, especially in software development. It means what it sounds like. Basically, rather than endlessly tweak your software or other product in pursuit of perfection (and years later it’s still not out the door), you put together the minimum possible version that will work for your customers. Now, this is not license to put out half-baked work; hence the use of the word viable.

There’s a wide no-man’s-land between viable and perfect. Better to get a viable product right out the door, then continuously improve it over time, than to hold your work back from people who need it right now (or yesterday).

In my own life, one arena where I use MVP often is in the design of my home environment. The other day I had an area of my kitchen nicely vacated by the removal of a monster stove. The stove came with the house but it was much too large for the space and for my needs. Now it’s in the home of a family who just moved to the area and needed a stove.

The removal of the stove gave me space to create a counter with storage underneath. Rather than wait for the curbside goddess of free furniture, I took an extra door that I happened to have (came with the house), laid it on its side on top of milk crates, tacked on a piece of fabric from my collection of scraps, and voilà!

The buckets for trash, recycling, and compost fit neatly underneath the counter, hidden from view by the fabric. Actually, I quickly found that I like to have the compost accessible at all times without having to bend down and bring it out from behind the curtain, so I am keeping it next to the sink (photo 2).

I am happy with my new counter. Minimum Viable Product! I didn’t even worry about hemming the fabric. This is a work in progress. (I find that allowing works-in-progress brings an element of fun and creativity to daily life.)

Speaking of fabric, I once read a great article about an artsy woman in NYC who’d edit her clothing over the course of her day. She’d start out wearing a long-sleeved sweater (that she’d gotten for $2 from a thrift shop or something), then, as she was bicycling around to her work and errands, she’d decide she wanted short sleeves so she’d cut the sleeves off. Or maybe make it a midriff. And continue on about her day. Minimum Viable Product, constantly evolving!

This blog post is, itself, a Minimum Viable Product. I woke up knowing I wanted to give you a post. But I’m busy getting ready for a talk, a conference, my neighborhood holiday party, and a radio show. So I knew I couldn’t allow myself to spend time fussing over the post.

Over time, I may circle back and add back-story, links for further reading, and so on. In the meantime, hope you enjoy this post and your day!

So Many Ways To Live Sustainably

I am still hearing a lot of people express feelings of guilt about not doing enough, not doing what this or that person is doing, etc. One of the main points of my book is that there are many many ways to live a low-footprint life. It is sometimes hard for me to get that point across.

So — Maybe it’s time for someone else’s perspective. I really appreciated this article, 101 Ways To Live Sustainably (curbed.com) .

The urgency to rise to a global challenge like the climate crisis can often feel overwhelming, like nothing we can do as individuals will ever be enough. Yet even the biggest movements began with small, localized actions—which is why we’ve made a list of 101 steps that anyone can take toward achieving a more sustainable future.

A unique feature of this article is that it lets you browse by category: In Your Home; In Your Community; Wherever You Go; Through Your Lifestyle; For the Future.

Hope you find it helpful!

Video Interview at My House

Yesterday, I had the honor of being video-interviewed at my home by Dr. J. Cho, a professor of Environmental Science at Bethune-Cookman University here in Daytona Beach. She set out to capture a slice of my version of “deep green” lifestyle.

Dr. Cho is leading the Halifax River Urban Watershed initiative. She and her students are testing and documenting the effectiveness of native plants, living shorelines, and other nature-based solutions for mitigating stormwater and nutrient runoff. They are doing great things and are taking into account the economic and social wellbeing aspects as well as the ecological.

If you enjoy the video, please Like and share and subscribe to Dr. Cho’s channel. She’s going to be posting lots of great examples of green initiatives happening all over the region. And as you probably know, what happens with Florida watersheds affects the whole country!

Here is Dr. Cho’s video of me at my abode, implementing one work-in-progress version of an effort at regenerative landscaping.

Housekeeping Note: Yahoo Groups Shutting Down

This is for any of you who have been participating in the 90 Percent Reduction Yahoo Group. Yahoo is shutting down its web-based Groups feature. All content will be deleted in mid-December. The group had not been very active recently, but in past years it served the Riot for Austerity movement well, as a forum for exchanging high-quality information and moral support.

Change happens in life, and we roll with it. The Riot for Austerity Facebook group is still alive and well as a forum for us to share ideas interactively. Activity on the Facebook group dropped off earlier this year, when one of our more active members became extremely worried about online footprint and stopped posting to it. But with the Yahoo group gone, I expect at least some people will gravitate back to the Facebook group. I would love to see more of you on there, and hope you will join our community if you haven’t already.

A word about online footprint. For sure, our online activities have a footprint. Our smartphones and computers are just the tip of the iceberg; the real energy hog is the servers required to transmit, store, and otherwise manage our billions of bytes. But, just like all other aspects of our lives, we can make our online activities RIOT-compatible. The benefit of networking and sharing information is worth the footprint of internet use, as long as we keep it within reason.

I wrote a series of posts about online footprint; will dig them up later for you. OK, here you go: Online Footprint Part 1 of 2; Online Footprint part 2 of 2

On that note, what if anything have any of you noticed about your online footprint? And how are you keeping yours within reason? Me, I have gotten more focused and deliberate about my online time, and even though I use Facebook and other internet channels primarily for work, I make a point of spending several hours a day unplugged from internet.

Am I Hardcore? Or Sensible?

A fellow member of my UU congregation, who had bought and read my book DEEP GREEN, came up to me on Sunday and said he had liked the book but “Man, you are really hardcore!”

In response, I offered him some pointers and words of reassurance. It actually sounded like he had done a lot to reduce his eco footprint. And far as my being hardcore, I disagree. If anything, I have not been hardcore enough, in terms of communicating an appropriate level of urgency in an effective manner. Writing my book was a step in the right direction.

A trend I see picking up speed lately is that local and regional governments are treating climate change as a real thing, as an actual emergency. (If you don’t believe in climate change, then call it weird extreme weather, drought-flood extremes, sea-level rise, or whatever you want to call it. If you don’t notice any of these things happening, or if you don’t think human activity is at least in part responsible for them, then this post and this blog are probably not going to convince you.)

Recently, the State of Florida appointed its first Chief Resilience Officer. (This is good, as my adopted home state stands to be the most affected, the soonest, by rising sea levels.) Her name is Julia Nesheiwat, and Governor DeSantis appointed her in August. You can read all about the CRO role and Dr. Nesheiwat’s background here. “The CRO is tasked with preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise,” says the news release from the Governor’s office.

Dr. Nesheiwat has built a reputation for organizational and administrative capability. She has been a State Department diplomat. She served in the military. And she did her doctoral thesis in Japan, on coastal resilience in the aftermath of Fukushima. (As someone who has herself lived and worked in Japan, and knows the kind of effort that entails, however richly rewarding the experience, I was personally impressed by this. Not to mention amazed to find such a deep Japan connection with a fellow resident of Florida who is dedicated to resilience. Wild coincidence, wild world. Unlike me, Dr. Nesheiwat is actually a native Floridian.)

After reading about Dr. Nesheiwat, I agree with Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, quoted in the Governor’s news release, that “Governor DeSantis made a wise choice. Dr. Nesheiwat is a proven resiliency leader in critical areas where the public, private and academic sectors intersect. Her years of environmental experience, with an emphasis on water and natural resources, will serve the people of Florida well.”

Back to the original subject of my post: “Hardcore Green.” Things are getting hardcore, and discussions are getting real.

This past year, some citizens in Ormond Beach started organizing a series of meetings called “Civil Discourse.” The leaders set a different topic each month, and it’s often to do with the environment: septic-to-sewer conversion; water; and so on. There are usually one or two expert guest speakers kicking off the discussion, and then audience members can raise their hands to make comments. Last night’s topic was sea-level rise.

By 2100, Florida could see an EIGHT-FOOT rise in sea level. But that’s years away; let’s talk about soon. Our immediate local area can expect to see, within a few years, non-storm-related flooding in the streets on a regular basis if no action is taken.

So what’s the point; what am I saying here? What are we supposed to do about it? Well, ultimately, some of us might have to move, might actually lose our houses without compensation, and I am prepared for that. But such a dread scenario is far less likely to come about if we get smarter about development practices, landscaping standards, land-management practices, agricultural practices, transportation planning and so on while we still have time. And this “smarter” needs to be happening at every level, from the official, policy level right down to the personal/household level.

And, along with (and as a step toward) reforming our wasteful and harmful practices, we can be putting our heads together and having constructive conversations, which is what happened last night when about 35 citizens (who included activists, academics, and one city government official) gathered at the Ormond Beach Library for Civil Discourse. Not only having constructive conversations, but building networks, social connections.

Humans are fundamentally social animals; I have long felt we are more like ants than we’d like to admit. The solutions to our problems are more likely to emerge from “putting our heads together” than from one flashy, silver-bullet solution.

This post is ongoing. I will write you another installment soon.

In the meantime, some questions for you: What’s happening in your area in terms of climate change, extreme weather, etc.? What do you see, what are you experiencing? And how are the people around you responding? Do you feel like you and other people are responding appropriately to the level of urgency of the situation as you perceive it?

Does your state or province have a Chief Resilience Officer or equivalent? How about your city? (My city doesn’t yet, but many other cities in Florida, and in other states, do.)

Dishwashing Tips

I like to be able to get my dishes clean with just cold water, and the minimum amount of dishwashing liquid needed to get them clean. The following practices help me save water, dishwashing liquid, and labor:

– When cooking at home, I prepare vegan or vegetarian meals whenever possible. Thus the dishes are easier to clean than if I were cooking meat. I’m omnivore but usually don’t cook meat at home.

– When I do cook meat at home, I mainly use one certain pan, a large cast-iron pan. Cast-iron pans don’t need to be washed (in fact, washing them wrecks the coating of oil/fat that keeps them from rusting); you just wipe them out and maybe rinse them lightly.

– To prevent dishes piling up, I clean the dishes from each meal right after eating. This is easy when I’m by myself, because I cook one-pot meals and mainly eat with one dish and spoon. I found out a lot of other people I know do this also. (There’s a certain intersection of “green” and “bachelor/bachelorette” mind-sets at work here, I think.)

– When I have guests, and am too busy to wash everyone’s dishes after every meal, I just scrape them really really well (scrapings go into the compost bucket) and stack them in my large dishwashing tub. I do NOT put water in the tub til I am actually going to do the dishes. You might think a lot of dried food would be stuck on the dishes and be hard to wash off, but that isn’t the case. Also, by not leaving the dishes soaking in water, I avoid the problem of the water turning nasty and smelly, making the dish-washing that much harder once I do get around to it. I noticed that even if it was nice soapy water I left the dishes soaking in, it would turn nasty and smelly pretty quickly, which is a waste of dish liquid and water, as well as labor.

– I avoid using plastic dishes and utensils; they are much harder to clean, especially with cold water. I use china, stainless steel, glass.

– I use the same water glass, coffee cup, bowl, and spoon all the time. Since I’m the only one using it, just a quick rinse with water is usually enough; most of the time no dish liquid is needed. When friends of mine who are into this lifestyle come to visit, they pick out their own cup, dish, and spoon, and use it for the duration of their visit, rinsing it after each meal the same as I do.

– When I have a bunch of dishes to wash, I wash in a small tub (actually it’s a large oval-shaped enameled metal baking dish, which I bought at a thrift shop and is just the right size for washing dishes). When I’m just quick-rinsing my personal bowl or spoon, I catch the rinse-water in a smaller pot that I keep in my kitchen sink for catching water. (I try not to let water go down the drain.) The collected dishwater/rinsewater are used to water trees and shrubs in the yard.

– For those times I do need or want hot water, I boil up just the bare minimum needed (using an electric kettle or stovetop kettle), and pour it into the smallest possible container. For example, a mason jar if I’m washing silverware. I’ll squirt a bit of dish liquid into the mason jar, add the hot water and then put in the silverware and swish it around. Sometimes the hot water can be used to wash other items after washing the silverware, sometimes not, depending how dirty the silverware started out. One thing that used hot water can always be reused for is cleaning the sink and drain.

Hope you find these tips helpful. Got any to add to this list?

Homeless in the Park (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I described a typical scenario in city parks. A park gets “taken over” by homeless people and other so-called “undesirables,” and then the so-called “good people” or law-abding citizens don’t feel comfortable using the park anymore. And so, in an effort to get rid of the “undesirables,” the city removes park benches, drinking fountains, and other amenities. But this backfires, as a park without benches and other amenities is only attractive to “undesirables” (people who have no better place to go).

I suggested the solution might lie in the opposite direction: Rather than remove amenities, we should be adding amenities. In other words, rather than try to make the park less attractive to “undesirables” (a futile endeavor), we should be trying to make the park more attractive to people who have many choices of where to hang out.

But if you think about it, that’s a tall order! Even average-income people these days seem to have fancier homes than ever. Big fenced yards; souped-up decks; patios and pools. Cable TV, internet. And that’s just their houses! They also have other leisure options, such as going to a movie or theme park, or shopping.

So, what amenities might we add to a park, to make people feel inclined to come out of their comfortable nests and spend time there? The answer is different in different places and times.

In a downtown area with lots of offices, just benches along a sidewalk might be enough. People enjoy eating lunch outdoors as long as the weather isn’t too extreme.

In a residential neighborhood with a significant population of young people, it could be a basketball court, offering the potential of a pick-up game. Of course it all depends on the size of the park.

Imagine, for a moment, that it’s a pocket park in your neighborhood. What would you add to draw people out? Here’s my beginning of a list. Drop me a line with your suggested additions!

– chess and checkers board table with chairs

– mini food-forest, tended by residents

– Little Free Library

– seed bank

– picnic tables, grills (many of which have been removed from parks “to keep out the homeless,” leaving the park utterly devoid of appeal)

– native plants, with informational signage about the local plants, insects, wildlife

– drinking fountain, and water-bowls for dogs

– rainwater pool, pond

– race-track with various levels, chutes, etc., for toy cars and marbles

– solar oven; Rocket oven (twig-fired oven for making pizza, etc)

– giant chalkboard for anyone to write or draw on

– kiosks for local residents to sell arts, crafts; offer informal classes

– skating ramp

– funhouse mirrors

– dog gymnasium (not sure what-all this would be — but, different fun stuff for Fido and Spot, which would also serve as conversational icebreaker for their humans)

– climbing wall; climbing tower; rope ladders etc. (let’s stop carping about “liability”; this is what insurance is for, and city legal departments)

– tree house

– some kind of light-fountain (motion-activated feature that only works at night; people dance and move around it and watch the light change colors and speeds). (Wait, what?? Encourage people to be in a park at night?? Yes! What better way to discourage unsavory activity in parks at night, than to create a draw for wholesome activity, creative play 24-7?)

– Allow artists and buskers to set up in the park and sell/perform (I believe this may be the most promising idea. Artists and performers are relatively less reluctant than the general population to venture outdoors in public spaces, even in “edgy” neighborhoods, because they have the extra motivation of needing to earn a livelihood. In turn, the steady presence of artists and performers could well be the magic key to draw other people to the park)

If a lot of these ideas make you think, “But the City would never allow that!” — you are not alone. But I’m making a list of things that I think would entice people out of their cozy houses. Run-of-the-mill amenities alone will probably not be enough to do that.

(And who knows, maybe at least one or two of the druggies and downtrodden people would be uplifted by the improved atmosphere of the park, and would come there and actually enjoy the amenities without engaging in antisocial behavior.)

Getting local government approval would be the next frontier.

So — what next? What more would you add to this list?