Home Office Bonus

The Riot for Austerity target numbers don’t differentiate between people who work from a home office, and those whose workplace is outside the home.

(For those of you who may be newcomers to this blog, the Riot for Austerity — also known as the 90 Percent Reduction Challenge — is the grassroots eco-footprint-reduction movement that sparked this blog, and my book DEEP GREEN. You can learn more about it in my book, in this blog, and via the online community linked in the sidebar.)

Anyway, back to what I was saying. The Riot for Austerity target numbers don’t differentiate between people who work from home and those who work outside the home. Therefore, if you have a home office, and work there most of the day, you might find (for example) that it’s a bit more of a challenge to meet the targets for electricity usage, home heating, and other house-based metrics than it would be if you worked in some outside place where you would not have to count your consumption.

Accordingly, this morning it occurred to me to propose a “Home Office Bonus” (analogous to the IRS’s Home Office Deduction, but related to eco footprint rather than financial expenditure).

I don’t have any numeric values for this “bonus,” but let’s just say you get an extra gold star for making the targets if your consumption also includes a home office. And regardless, if you’re reading this, give yourself an extra gold star today just for caring about your eco footprint.

Clinging Precariously To Middle-Class Status

Middle-class people are going into ever-deeper debt to hang on to their position, says this article by AnnaMaria Andriotis, Ken Brown, and Shane Shifflett in the Wall Street Journal. (Note, you will probably encounter a paywall but I wanted to provide the link for proper attribution. The WSJ is offering a “12 weeks for $12” special, which I signed up for because I wanted to read the article and support a good publication.)

Prices of cars, college, housing, and medical care have skyrocketed, while incomes have budged little. Unsecured personal loans are filling the gap between what people earn and what they spend.

The WSJ article authors say that people’s willingness to borrow money for living expenses indicates that they feel optimistic about their future incomes. But I suspect that for at least some people, something other than optimism is at work. That “something” is fear and denial about losing their middle-class status. I think a lot of people know deep down that this lifestyle is unsustainable. And the denial is causing them to dig in their heels.

It would be great if we could adjust our definition of being well-off, so that it does not have to include (for example) big houses, and every single person feeling they have to own their own car. Why couldn’t the definition of “well-off, comfortably middle-class” instead include being able to walk to work, and not having a huge house to maintain? Why can’t it include being free of college debt because people saw the writing on the wall and went to trade school or community college? (Plumbers and electricians and sewing-machine repair people and engine mechanics are in high demand. Now those are some folks who have economic security.)

When I see people of modest means spending half their income on car payments and other expenses of car ownership, the feeling I get is like watching clueless characters in a horror movie start walking down the long dark hall that everyone knows they shouldn’t walk down. “For Goddess sake, turn back, ditch the car,” I want to scream.

People new to this blog might be tempted to conclude that I’m just a crank who hates lawns and cars. What I hate is things that suck too much time and money for too little benefit.

Personally, I favor Henry David Thoreau’s take on wealth: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” — Thoreau

If you find yourself having to take on debt in order just to meet your living expenses, I sympathize. A lot of stuff has gotten insanely expensive. (The charts in the article show just how dramatically the costs of medical care, cars, and college have outpaced income growth.) But instead of digging in your heels (and digging yourself further into the hole), take it as an invitation to make some changes that will really boost your position in the long run. It could be something as simple as getting a roommate (or an additional roommate if you already have one), or living with a family member and sharing a car. You might be surprised at how such changes can end up not only being less burdensome than anticipated, but actually adding to your quality of life. (It can help make student-loan payments, if you have them, more manageable too.)

I am seeing more families these days sharing living space and cars, and all in all I think it’s a positive trend, not only in terms of finances and carbon footprint but also for people’s emotional and spiritual health.

Another thing a family might consider is creating a business together. That’s a good way, which is all too overlooked nowadays, to pool resources and build intergenerational wealth.

On the subject of family businesses, a book I really like is The Lohman Way: Entrepreneur Lowell Lohman’s Story and Strategies for Building Multimillion-Dollar Family Businesses, by E.L. Wilks. The Lohmans have been successful in the funeral-home business and in apartment-building ownership and management, among other arenas.

(I met several of the family members when they came to 1 Million Cups Daytona Beach as the featured presenters. If you have a 1 Million Cups in your area, I strongly recommend you take the opportunity to attend. In a nutshell, it’s entrepreneurial networking, but mere words don’t do it justice. I’ve been bowled over by all I’ve learned there, and the people I’ve met. Kudos to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for its major contribution to helping communities build intellectual and social capital.)

My particular reason for bringing up The Lohman Way book here is to share what I consider its core concept. According to Mr. Lohman, there are just three compelling reasons to go into business with partners (as opposed to solo). One reason is because you need a partner’s money; another is because you need a partner’s experience. And the third? To create a family business, build wealth as a family.

Bit of a long tangent on the original topic of this post, but I felt it was a tangent worth including. Just as sharing cars, homes, and other assets among family members can help people get out from behind the 8-ball of unmanageable overhead expenses, so going into business with one’s family can maximize assets beyond what each individual could do alone.

Just … NO.

In general, I run this blog the way I try to run my life: Focus on solutions rather than complaining about problems. But I think sometimes it’s OK to say a strong “No” to certain things. In fact, it may be necessary to express a little shock and outrage at the status quo to get things moving down the path to solutions. Here’s a list of some of my “No’s”:

  • Idling motor vehicle engines for minutes or hours at a time. Just stop it! Turn off that car or truck when you park. (In some countries, and maybe even in some parts of the USA, people even turn off their engines at a stoplight! So turning off one’s engine while parked is not too much to ask.) As long as anyone can afford to idle their engine while parked, the price of gasoline is not high enough.
  • Bottled water. Companies making money off of us by pumping water from the ground (sometimes basically for free), putting it in single-use plastic bottles, and selling it to us. Whenever someone asks me, “Would you like ‘a’ water?” — as in a plastic bottle of water — my answer has been and is going to be NO. I dream of a world where “water” is restored to its proper status as a non-countable noun. Storing water for emergencies is a good idea. Do it by filling reusable bottles with tapwater. For people who are fussy about the taste of tapwater, there are many great water filters on the market. For people worried about the chemicals in tapwater, why would you think some water bottled and sold to you in a plastic bottle is any better?
  • Leafblowers. Just NO. Use a broom, or relax your fussy standards of neatness. Why do we have to turn the whole great outdoors into our own personal living-room rug?
  • As per the photo — application of pesticides for vanity agriculture in public spaces. NO!! Especially next to a body of water, but really anywhere, as all ground drains to some body of water. Again, we need to stop treating the whole great outdoors as our personal living-room carpet. We create dead “green” spaces that produce nothing (except that deadly human-defined “neatness”), and crowd out wildlife. When I took this picture yesterday, I felt equal parts of hopeless and spitting-mad. This morning it occurred to me that the pesticide application might have an additional purpose: to keep people away. (This photo was taken next to our public library, and homeless people often sit under the trees.) A better solution: If you really don’t want people using a space, plant vegetation there. Shrubs, spiny plants even. Don’t make it look inviting to sit on. Poisoning our world just to keep someone from (God/dess forbid) sitting down might just be the ultimate definition of shooting ourselves in the foot. (If keeping people away is in fact part of the motive.) We need to quit spraying poisons. Or we can keep right on, and eventually we will go extinct, and the rest of nature (including the ants or whatever other creatures were the original target of the pesticide application) will carry on quite nicely without us.

What would you add to this list? What’s on your list of eco “No’s”?

“Green Daytona” radio show, today noon EST

Making war with nature is expensive and ultimately futile – yet we humans spend so much time doing just that. Tune in Wednesday to Daytona Beach Radio to hear a discussion about how to make peace with nature, appreciate natural energies and resources, and work with them to meet our needs and solve our problems. You can listen at 106.3FM or via the Facebook Live feed on the City of Daytona Beach government Facebook page. And you are welcome to call in! 386-516-8030.


Savoring Darkness

Here’s a fun “low-footprint” tip — recycled from a Facebook memory that popped up on my timeline today. Do you ever do this?

Sweeten your life, and save on your electric bill*, by instituting a “dark night” in your household once a week (or as often as you like). Turn off the lights and go out and sit on the porch, or take walks under the stars. One of my favorite things to do, if no friends or family are nearby, is use the dark hours for chatting with friends on the phone. After all, you don’t need light to speak on the phone, do you! (Of course if you go the phone route, it’s not a completely electricity-free night, since you will use electricity to charge your phone, but it’s still a cool thrifty thing, saving on electric light and appreciating the beauties of the darkness.) It’s very pleasant to chat on the phone in the dark (sitting on the porch or balcony, on the beach, sitting by the river, walking around the block, etc.). If you have kids, make the lights-out night a fun experience by playing hide-and-seek in the yard or empty lot, watching fireflies, pretending to be explorers, and all those other wonderful things we used to do at night as kids back in the “old days”. Or even do this if you DON’T have kids. We should all encourage our inner kid; that inner kid knows what makes us come alive and is always trying to nudge us in that direction.

*Unless you are using a lot of high-wattage bulbs in your house, and keep many lights on, cutting your use of electric lighting probably won’t make a huge difference in your bill. But it can definitely save you a few bucks. More significant benefits of a “Dark Night” habit, in my opinion, are the beauty you get to experience, as well as the expanded possibilities for quality conversation with friends, family, and neighbors. Possibly even more important for a lot of people, there’s the sense of security you get when you realize it’s no big deal doing without lights. Emotional peace of mind is a major component of personal and household resilience, and I recommend taking every opportunity to cultivate that peace of mind. Learning to not only endure, but actually enjoy, being without lights and electricity for even a few hours is a great milestone for some of us who have never lived without all the modern conveniences.

Linky Love

Most of my DEEP GREEN blog entries include links to other writers. It allows me to offer extra material to those of you, my dear readers, who want more, while keeping my posts bite-size for those who just want a snack.

Besides, there’s a lot of excellent eco-related content out there, and I enjoy promoting it. So it was nice to read this article by Rand Fishkin at moz.com affirming the various reasons why “linking out” is good!

Of course, this general principle applies in meatspace too. In my public talks, casual conversation, meetings, any other place where I’m out and about, I try to remember to “link out” where it’s beneficial and appropriate.

Where We Went Wrong: Errors Limiting Effectiveness of the Eco Movement

(A list that’s been cooking in my mind for awhile now. What would you add to this list? Also note that I use the past tense, went wrong. A shift is happening!)

• Not seeing ourselves as the leading edge, not taking leadership; falling into a victim mentality vis a vis government & corporations. Why were we not insisting on walkable cities, on housing developments that conserved resources (and not incidentally facilitated community instead of eroding it)? Why did we roll over and play dead, move into HOAs etc “because schools” – why didn’t we take leadership with our own KIDs, realize WE were the ones to teach the important lesson of conserving resources, putting real physical and emotional health, ahead of opulence and comfort and convenience? We taught our kids materialism against our own principles. We fell in line with everyone else who made a god of convenience. Now we can take charge of creating what we want, if we can’t find it out there.

Just because we don’t (or think we don’t) have access to the traditional conventional mainstream power structure does NOT mean we don’t have power, and does not excuse us from exercising leadership. People in power have listened to me when I spoke constructively from the heart, even though I didn’t look like anybody special.

• Not seeing the self-interest angle. Suffering, self-styled planetary martyrs don’t present an attractive example to emulate. People copy what WORKS and ROCKS and LOOKS GOOD. The other night at a city meeting, one of our city commissioners talked about taking a trip to California and seeing all the stylish beautiful people carrying around their metal straws and reusable eating utensils while out and about.

• Not walking our talk. When people are living in a way that’s out of keeping with their core values, other people can sense that. And the reverse is just as true! Live your values; you’ll inspire others.

• Continuing to waste time debating with climate denyers and other eco naysayers. Squandering our energy trying to persuade them. Ditto for engaging in finger-pointing; setting out to take down the people we see as wrong. We need to be spending far more time engaged in doing the actions we truly believe are right (and making those actions contagious), than focusing on the people we feel are wrong.

• Not putting our financial money where our mouth is. How many of us protesting the big bad corporations have retirement accounts tied to Wall Street? What if we invested it in our own cities’ Main Streets instead? Or in local farms? One of my favorite questions, from Woody Tasch of Slow Money, is, “What would happen if we invested at least 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?” How about within 10 miles? Sustainable finance (or better yet, regenerative finance) is a subject that merits a whole separate post. Stay tuned; I will be posting more about finance in the not-too-distant future.