Thursday, May 31, 2007

How to Save Cooking Energy and 90% Reduction Reminder

Today, the last day of May, is your last chance to get in on the ground floor of the 90% reduction project!! There are nearly 100 people signed up, and more than 25 blogs going! We would be thrilled if you wanted to join as well. Remember, you can start anytime, and you don't have to achieve 90%.

Here's the link to Miranda's blog where the rules, FAQ and Intro are posted if you want to learn more about the project:

If you want to discuss the project, we have a yahoogroup devoted to the subject - you can join by sending an email here:

How many people do you think we can get this up to? Enough for a press release? A movement? A revolution? When Miranda and I cooked this up, we had no idea it would be so popular - we're so excited.

In the spirit of our really riotous reduction, I've been thinking about how to cut my cooking energy down as much as possible. Here are 25 ways I've come up with to cut cooking energy.

1. Turn off the stove/oven before you are finished. This is fairly simple - when you soup is almost hot, turn off the stove - it will continue to heat for a while. When your bread is 15 minutes short of baked, turn off the oven and let it sit in the hot oven. You can do this for longer with things that are hotter for longer, or less sensitive, like casseroles. Be cautious with meat - you don't want food poisoning. Experiment.

2. Eat more salads, sandwiches and raw foods that don't require cooking.

3. Make a hay box cooker - insulated a box with a blanket, hay or other good insulator. Get your food nice and hot, and then put it in that insulated box and let the retained heat do the cooking.

4. Use a pressure cooker - they save a lot of time when cooking beans, grains, stews and such.

5. Capture heat whenever you can. Instead of heating up several pots of water for tea or soup each day, heat that water and put it in a thermos, and use it for tea when you need it.

6. Use a wood cookstove to heat your house and cook at the same time. Save heavy canning and long cooking projects for times when you would be heating the house anyhow.

7. Or, if you heat with wood but don't have a cookstove, cook on your heating stove. Put your kettle on the stove. Keep soup on the back of the stove. Have someone build a sheet metal oven for you (just a metal box) that will enable you to bake on the stove.

8. Build an earth or masonry oven outside and use twigs and other scrap wood to bake and cook. A hot earth oven will stay hot enough for you to start by making pizza, then move down to bread, stew and finally dehydrating. Info in _Build Your Own Earth Oven_ by Kiko Denzer and _Capturing Heat Two_ by Still, Hatfield and Scott of the Aprovecho Research Center.

9. Build or buy a solar oven. Instructions for making your own are available on many sites, and in _Capturing Heat: Five Earth Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them_ by Still and Kness of the source above. The Maria Telkes Solar Cooker gets a bit hotter than some other models, as does the commercial ones.

10. Build a solar dehydrator for food preservation instead of using an electric one. Here's a cool one:

11. Don't preheat your oven - that is, put your food in while the oven is preheating to capture that heating energy. The only exceptions where this isn't a good idea are a few really delicate baked goods, but generally this works fine, although you may have to slightly adjust your timing. Practice makes perfect.

12. If you have an electric oven, convert to natural gas or propane - they are much more efficient ways of making heat.

13. Build a rocket stove or rocket bread oven as seen in the first _Capturing Heat_ - a rocket stove uses biomass fuel much more efficiently than a woodstove or earth oven. A rocket bread oven can cook 20 loaves at a time.

14. Have a baking day, or two a week. Do all your oven work then and store your baked goods.

15. Use a crockpot if you have an electric stove - a crockpot generally will use less energy than an electric stove, although not a gas one.

16. Only bake in a full oven - plan ahead and while you are baking your bread, also consider roasting a pan of vegetables or baking that pie you'll want later.

17. Don't open your oven or remove pot lids more often than necessary. Keep the heat in.

18. Use a microwave instead of a stove (I personally hate microwaves, but they are more efficient).

19. Make large batches of things and reheat, cooking less often (although this might not make sense if you would give up fridge or freezer otherwise - think it through carefully).

20. Lactoferment pickles, kimchi, etc... and don't can them. Just keep them in a cool place, and save the canning energy.

21. Switch from a coffee percolator to a press coffee maker.

22. Soak beans overnight in cold water to reduce cooking time.

23. Use cast iron or other heavy cookware that retains heat better than cheap aluminum. That way, you can turn things off even sooner.

24. Make your own low-heat charcoal, cook over the process, and then use agrichar to improve your garden soil.

25. Get your cat to sit on the butter warmer (covered of course) when you need it melted. Ok, this one isn't a real suggestion, but I'm one short, and it probably would work, if you could persuade the cat not to eat the butter.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Feels Like I'm Dying...From that Old Used-to-Be

"I got the blues...Won't you save me?
I got the far as I can see.
I got the blues...Won't you save me?
Seems like I'm dying, from that old, used-to-be."
-Lyle Lovett

I tend to be an optimist, at least by the standards of peak oil activists (which isn't very hard). By that I mean that I believe in individual action and I believe that we could overturn the system that we live within and make better choices. But I also think this is less likely than that we'll do the wrong thing, and part of it is that our brains are trying to kill us (or at least our kids). That is, we've gotten into habits of thought so destructive and so automatic that we don't even recognize their basic failures. And if we don't recognize the failures in our own heads and overturn them, we're in big trouble. One of those problems is that we can't stop looking for a quick fix.

I liked this essay by James Kunstler quite a bit, and I recommend it to you, because he has a useful grasp of essentials,

" It only made me more nervous, because this longing for "solutions," strikes me as a free-floating wish for magical rescue remedies, for techno-fixes that will allow us to make a hassle-free switch from fossil hydrocarbon power to something less likely to destroy the Earth's ecosystems (and human civilization with it). And I think such a wish is, in itself, at the root of our problem -- certainly at the bottom of our incapacity to think clearly about these things.

I said so, of course, which seemed to piss off a substantial number of my fellow festival attendees."

I, like Kunstler, think that the phrasing of the call for "solutions" as "ways to keep things mostly the way they are" is completely mistaken. Trying to keep the cars going and growth capitalism up and running is a. futile and b. destructive. Not only will we be doing the wrong thing, but we don't seem to grasp that none of these represents a real solution in any meaningful sense.

Ethanol, biodiesel, solar panels - all of these are tremendously fossil fuel intensive. We can't make a solar panel without using a whole lot of silicone and metals that are mined, smelted, crafted, assembled, sold and transported using...fossil fuels. The day that we can create a solar panel made from cradle to grave with renewable energies, I'll buy the notion that we're all going to be running around in electric cars fed by solar panels.

Now when I say that, people start arguing that it is hypothetically possible that someday we'll use bioplastics and mine metals using electrically powered machinery. And again, I point out, show me a case of having done it, having made even 5 solar panels that way, and I'll buy it. Heck, I'll write a free ad.

Because most people don't grasp that solar panels, or wind generators or ethanol aren't a magic bullet unless they represent a self-perpetuating system. Oil was nicely self perpetuating, at least for a good long time - you used oil based equipment to get oil out of the ground in a nice ration of energy returned over energy invested (EROEI) of 100-1. But we don't have the infrastructure, or the grid system, or the renewables, or the tools, or in some cases the technology to make things like solar panels or wind generators entirely out of renewables. They take fossil fuels at 20-50 different spots along the ride. When you add up all the fossil fuels involved, the EROEI of most renewables is somewhere between 1 to 1 and 20-1, probably on the low side for most of them. That means that even to match our current energy needs, we'd need 5 times as much power generated from wind as coal and 50 times as much generated from solar as natural gas. Do you begin to grasp the scale of the problem?

And these alternative energies aren't a permanent solution - it is true that a solar panel might last 20-30 years. It is also true that they might not, and that the batteries certainly won't. That grid intertie that keeps you from having batteries - that uses lots of fossil fuels quite regularly and needs quite a lot of regular maintenence and other energy inputs. And even if your windmill lasts you two decades, unless we can make them again with renewables, that means that we're just sticking the problem on our kids.

That is, let's say we do a massive build out of windmills and solar panels, enough to keep our whole society going (never mind that we could never fund it or engineer it). We use up a huge amount of our remaining fossil reserves to keep everyone comfy and in their cars, and we go into massive debt to do it. Well, five years from now, all the solar panels need new batteries. But we don't have any manufacturing plants that make batteries from solar panels. So we need to do it again, with fossil fuels, plus fix the solar panels that got broken and replace a few parts on the windmill. And all the metal, and the chemicals and the little pieces need to be made, mined, manufactured...with fossil fuels. And then five years later we have to do it again, and then a decade after that we have to do it on an even bigger scale - to replace all the worn out windmills and solar panels. And as we go along, supply constraints are increasing, and prices of fossil energies are rising. Capital costs go up, investment costs go up, and remember, since energy costs are way up, there may not be as much money around to invest.

Where is the energy and the money for all these fossil inputs going to come from in our nice, "renewable" society? In order to keep things going on renewables, we'd have to vastly *expand* our existing infrastructure - not only would we have to make enough windmills to keep the grid going, but also to run the electric cars, to power the mining equipment, to make bioplastics, and smelt aluminum, to manufacture titanium parts - all things that were done comparatively efficiently with oil and gas (because they are heat intensive) now must be done much less efficiently by electricity. So we'd have to build enough windmills not just to power things as they are, but to produce 3 times as much electricity - and rebuild the grid. This would costs trillions of dollars, tons of oil and natural gas...and in a few years, we'd have to do again.

Whenever I bring this up from people looking for techno solutions, they all tell me that eventually we'll be able to make things from renewables, of course. Hmmm...of course. That is, we're betting our kids lives on the hope that at some point renewables will become self-perpetuating, even though we have no idea how that will happen, that would require major, multiple large scale technical breakthroughs in many cases that might or might not happen, AND, we're not willing to do it now, when we have energy to burn, lots of money and no crisis - instead, we're going to bet the farm (and lives) on the fact that we'll be able to do this 20 or 30 years into a depletion crisis with much less money, much less oil, much less availability in a society that we simply don't know the shape of. That is, we're going to stick the next generation with the problem, and hope it isn't too serious. But if we can't do it now, when we have lots of energy and lots of money and all the time in the world, the chances are excellent we won't be able to do it.

"Hey kids, when you are poorer, more indebted, and energy costs are up at 250 bucks a barrel, guess what? The techno people want to offer you the chance to keep the society going. And if you can't afford it, or get the energy to do it, well...tough. You can adapt then, even though every infrastructure adaptation will cost you more and require more scarce resources. What, you wanted to use your precious legacy of remaining fossil fuels for cancer treatment drugs? Tough - we used it to build batteries so we could have windmills. Oh, but you can't have windmills or cancer drugs. But feel free to scavenge in our debris."

So what we're offering our kids is for them to take on the real burden. We, we are told need "transitional" solutions - ones that would enable poor rich us to be able to get comfy with a more sustainable life. We need our electric cars because we can't be expected to change hard - that will be much, much easier for our children. Does anyone else see a problem here? Like the wacko, immoral reversal of what parents and grandparents are supposed to do for children - we're supposed to be willing to work our behinds off and make sacrifices for the wellbeing of future generations. And what we're really saying is fuck them, I don't want it to be too hard for me. How did we get here? How did we turn into this?

Well that's been the strategy for the last 50 years, right? Let's stick the next generation with the problem and not worry our pretty little heads about whether it is sustainable. In the 1970s, when we became widely aware that the oil was going to run out, the people who were able to vote (not me, I was 5) decided to elect Ronald Reagan and go for denial, instead of starting to build renewable energy systems. So now it is my problem. And their parents, after World War II, decided to destroy the nation's agricultural system, which meant that the chemicals and the pesticides became my parent's problem, and my problem, and my kids' problems. Wow, so that's what an inheritance is!

I would suggest that the "find a short term solution solution" even if it were feasible (probably not) is morally bankrupt, ugly, inelegant and in part responsible that each generation's children seem to want less to do with their parents than the last one. The notion that there's a techno solution out there is probably wrong, but even if we could find one, Kunstler's right, would we want it? Would we want to be people who said, "Let's just put it off a little longer so that someone else has to deal?" Would we want to be the opposite of the generations who made huge personal sacrifices so their kids wouldn't have to?

The thing is, there is a solution, and like most good solutions is really, really simple, and equally elegant. Stop being rich. Seriously, that's all there is to it. Stop living like rich people. Right now you probably have a servant to wash your dishes, another to do your laundry, another to transport you to your destination. These aren't people servants (somehow we're convinced that paying other people is wrong), they are electrical or oil based. But you live like a lord in a castle. Your castle is probably huge by world standards. You probably have a whole bunch of servants. You take a lot of wealth from poorer people (ie, you buy cheap things manufactured by virtual slaves that are cheap because of that), also like lords in castles.

The answer is really simple. Get off your ass, and dump the castle, or at least move a few more people into it. Get rid of most of the servants. Start doing for yourself without using power. Stop buying anything you want and eating like a king. Live like a peasant. Wear peasant clothes. Do peasant work. Eat peasant food. Get comfortable with it.

The thing is, peasantry isn't really that bad. Peasant clothes are sturdy and comfortable - peasants don't have to wear pantyhose, get botox shots or wear a necktie much. Peasant work isn't that bad - the fact is that 11th century serfs managed to feed themselves working just over half the year - the rest of the time was spent drinking beer. Ladakhis work hard 4 months a year, and spend the rest partying. The !Kung people can meet their needs in 3 hours a day. Once you get good peasantry, it really isn't that hard. Peasant food is great - fancy restaurants in cities serve peasant food and call it "Trattoria" or "Bistro" fare.

The craving for a solution that will mean things don't *REALLY* have to change in any deep way is not just a sign that we're missing the point. Because even when confronted by the obvious and simple truth, we choose denial or simply not to give a flying fuck. I'm not always sure which one it is. I suppose if I have to choose one, I'd rather we were stupid than evil, but, as my husband once said, "no dichotomy where dualism will do!"

But I still want to believe that we can count without our fingers, figure out when things don't make sense, take our heads out of collective asses, and stop killing our children with our old-used-to-be. It might even be true.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Digging Dollars: Make-Work, Agriculture, and Empire

Most work is busywork.

This is an ugly realization for most of us, especially those of us who have "careers" rather than jobs, for which we trained many years. But if, all of a sudden your work was to disappear from the planet - no one was doing it - how much would anyone really suffer? For some jobs, the absence of anyone doing them would hardly be noticed - we could do entirely without literary critics, theoretical astrophysicists (please note these two are the careers my husband and I trained for), psychics, pet psychologists, virtually everyone involved with television or advertising, make up artists, many beaurocrats, etc...

Oh, certain things about our society might change, and we'd have to find other jobs for those people, but no harm would come. In some cases, a bit of good might even occur - a few fewer trees would be slain on the form of the romantic sublime or the precise shape of a black hole, or people might wear a little less wallpaper paste on their faces. It is conceivable that some dogs might be a bit more angsty without their therapists, but couldn’t we all live with that?

In many other cases, maybe even most, at least half of the people who do your job could disappear, and while it would change the nature of our society some, it wouldn't do any serious harm. We could get along with half as many (or vastly fewer) lawyers, novelists, retail salespeople, IRS employees, soldiers, plastic surgeons, drug dealers, housing developers, engineers, architects, fryolator tenders, etc... In fact, having less of all these things would probably be necessary in a sustainable society.

Even people who do useful things could be done without in many cases. Yes, we will always need doctors and nurses. But we could dramatically cut our nursing home employees, for example, by keeping our parents and grandparents at home with us whenever possible. Quite a few nations have similar lifespans to ours, but use 25-50% less medical care - think about it - they take 1/4 to 1/2 as many drugs, see the doctor that much less often, and they still live just as long as we do, and often report higher quality of life. Yes, doctors and nurses are valuable, but we could make significant cuts in their numbers, or keep the same numbers, and give the doctors and nurses much higher quality of life by simply reducing their working hours. The same is true with teachers - who are extremely valuable, but if more parents taught their children, particularly in the early years, we wouldn't need so many. Why do so few parents do so? In part because they go out to jobs, and don't have the time. Hmmm...

The simple fact is that we are mostly not needed to do any *particular* job - the fact is, we need work, but our careers are mostly optional. Somewhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of the American populace does truly essential work, and the rest of us mostly spread little pieces of paper around, shooting them back and forth. John Maynard Keynes, the famed economist, made the case that having enough work to do was so important to morale (and morale to the economy) that he argued that one potential way that government could stabilize the economy was to bury money in the ground and pay people to dig it up - that is, Keynes said that what was important was that we have some work, not that it be useful or valuable. Productivity and utility had their places, but mostly, we need some busy work to keep the economy and our lives running.

And a lot of our jobs actually operate funded by nasty, awful things we say we deplore. We may oppose global warming, but we make our money directly or indirectly by selling cars with low mileage standards or by driving long distances to our jobs. Perhaps we, like many people, are trickle down beneficiaries of things like the oil industry, the chemical agriculture industry or the military. Often, the military, with its endless wars.

Because Keynes didn't claim that the government could put us to work forever, of course. His argument was that in times of economic trouble, the government should borrow money to put people to work, ideally on things with social utility, but if necessary, doing make work. And when prosperity returns, Keynes argued that the government must cut back its spending and its make work and let the larger economy take over again, while paying off our indebtedness. Keynesianism was largely the model for the New Deal. But the New Deal was never popular with most serious capitalists, and good or bad, we've replaced classical Keynesianism with military Keynesianism.

Military Keynesianism was first described by the term used by a Polish Economist to describe Nazi Germany, but it describes much of our economy quite well. That is, our current economy, to a large degree, owes its success to military expansionism and imperialism. People are put to work not at rebuilding the domestic infrastructure, but at war. The military industry and its offshoots (of which the web is one), account for an enormous portion of our economy and our GDP, and millions of jobs, particularly among lower income people. The war in Iraq alone is estimated by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes to cost about 2 *TRILLION* dollars - dollars that get paid out to soldiers and Halliburton consultants, folks in the aerospace industry and janitors in the Pentagon, to government beauracrats and construction companies that build military facilities. And in turn, those dollars get paid out to Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants, bookstores and movie theaters, and trickle down to the rest of us.

Chalmers Johnson, in _Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic_ documents that 60% of GDP growth in just 2003 was attributable to defense spending, and that defense spending represents 50% of the government's discretionary spending - that is, 50% of the things the government chooses to spend money on are about our ability to blow things up. The American defense budget annually exceeds the combined defense budget of every other nation in the world. And, we should note, we are still losing the war in Iraq and precious human lives to people who build 300 dollar roadside bombs. Perhaps this should tell us something about the utility of all this spending.

This was how the Nazis got their economy moving during World War II - they turned their nation into a war machine. And we have done the same intermittently since World War II, most recently since September 11. Instead of burying cash in the ground and digging it up, we've built up a need for war and an imperial culture, and then made up reasons to use them - we can‘t justify all that money without someone to kill. We now make ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by invading Muslim countries and letting them kill our family members, only to use those deaths as a justification for further imperialism and violence. And all of it, in part, as Johnson deftly documents, because we don't have anything else to feed our economy.

But right now, war is not a money making venture - we're doing it on debt, and sooner or later, we'll pay the price for that. As Johnson points out, that might actually be the only way we can come out of this a truly democratic nation - after all, the price of our imperialism has been the loss of the things we say we value in democracy - if you look at the Bill of Rights, for example, and go down the list, you'll find that the only rights that haven't been undermined, infringed upon or stripped from us are the rights to bear arms and not to have Hessian troops quartered in your bedroom. And I wouldn't hold my breath forever on that last one if it seems convenient to the Bush administration. Johnson argues that only economic collapse could break off our imperial project, and he might be right. On the other hand, it might be possible to do it another way.

It isn't enough to deplore military Keynesianism. It might be useful to do more than deplore it (Americans are told in their own founding documents that if their government becomes tyrannical they have an obligation to overthrow it. Now I'm a non-violent sort, but I do sometimes wonder what level of tyranny we are waiting for before we get serious about choosing something else? Our government supports "disappearing" people without trial, a la Guatemala, torture a la China, spying on its own citizens a la the former Soviet Union...what do we have to do before we start calling it a tyranny and arranging the proper response? This is something I mull over now and again.), but if we're ever to have an alternative economy, one that doesn't depend on finding people to make war against, that doesn't depend on exploitation and murder, we're going to have to do more than get rid of military Keynesianism, we're going to have to get rid of the make work and do useful things. And pay people more for doing useful things than for doing pointless ones.

That sounds obvious, but it isn't at all under the auspices of modern capitalism. Many economists and politicians have been dedicated for a long time to the notion that it is best to pack poor young men and women off to be soldiers, to invest tens of thousands of dollars in their equipment, their training and their bodies, pack them off around the world, and let them discover that a million dollar helicopter is often no match for a 1000 dollar rocket launcher and that a 600,000 dollar tank can be blown up by a 120 dollar IED, because people fighting to get invaders out of their countries almost always trump expensively trained people just doing their jobs - all so that the young man can buy food and pay a mortgage. We believe it is better to do this, than to invest 10,000 dollars once in a young man, to give him training, a few acres of land, and a little equipment so he could grow food for himself and enough to pay his mortgage (or, gasp, build a house without one).

Now the reason for this is that it is deemed to create jobs to do it this way - the military base commander, the drill sergeant, the people who build military housing, body armor and tanks, the fast food place where the soldier eats, the government administrator that helps his family get food stamps because the military pays so poorly, the VA doctors that help him rehabilitate, the Halliburton employees that supply food and transport, the people who manufacture the body bags - all of them get a little piece of this, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of times.

On the other hand, if we had spent that same money setting the same man up as a small scale subsistence farmer, how many people would have gotten jobs out of that? Certainly the manufacturer of hoes, nails and boots, maybe even small horse drawn or efficient tractor equipment. The sawmill guy who cut the boards to build his barn, the logger who cut the trees for house and barn, some seed growers and a feed store. Maybe the local diner once in a while. But you can't run a global economy on that, can you? Where's the R and D money for high technology so we can shoot people out of space with lasers? Where's the money for the people who will treat the soldier's drug problem and find him an apartment when he ends up homeless because of PTSD? You can't pay for global spy satellites off of the income of a small scale subsistence farmer - he barely pays any taxes, and he doesn't need McDonalds to feed him, because he grows his own food or a drug company to treat his obesity induced hypertension, because he doesn't sit on his ass all day, or anything much more technical than a few good tools and a way of getting his crops to market. Heck, if he could have land outside a city, he could do it with a bicycle cart.

Exactly. You can’t rule the world with a nation of farmers (ok, the Romans and Bulgarians did, but their empire was proportionally vastly cheaper to run). You can't support a global network of military bases on a simple economy, based on things people really need - food, houses, clothing, tools. If we encouraged young people to do things that were actually useful, and paid them fairly for it, we couldn't have this empire - we couldn't afford it. If we made less money, if we earned less money to buy things we don't need, we couldn't afford to make up excuses to go to war, because China and Japan wouldn't fund us to do so. If we mostly did for ourselves and met most of our own needs in self-sufficient communities and regions, we couldn't afford to do anything other than defend ourselves from real threat.

Wow, doesn't that sound terrible. The answer to the military industrial complex is pretty simple. It runs on money. It runs on our money. It runs on the money we pay in taxes for things we buy, and the money we pay on taxes from money we earn. Stop earning so much money, stop buying so much stuff, and the economy slows and the taxes stop pouring in. If enough of us cut our expenses, and our earnings to the bone, if enough of us stop being willing to fund this war and the next one, stop being willing to buy the oil that the war is about and the garbage about the way of life that the war is about - it will stop. Congress has tried (not very courageously) and failed miserably to cut off funds. But guess what - their funds come from You. Us. We can cut them off anytime we're willing to make the sacrifice. We just have decide it is worth it to us to make some economic sacrifices (if we can - I know everyone cannot, but many of us could), rather than sacrifice the lives of young men and women.

Your job is probably make work. Most of our work is. Or perhaps it is a little necessary - but perhaps not full-time, suck you dry necessary. I know you need a job to eat, to pay your taxes, to pay your mortgage. I understand that, and I'm not blaming anyone for taking the work they can. We do that too. But every dollar you earn above the absolute necessities, and every dollar you spend in the larger economy helps feed the war machine, and the economy that supports it. And it lends credence to the basic presumption that the largest purpose of our economy is to give us make work. I know you want economic security, a nice nest egg for retirement, a comfortable home, a pretty house. But all those things make globalization, and the wars that enable it possible. Is it worth it?

Now maybe it would be morally acceptable to do make work, regardless of its collateral damage, if there was nothing else important to do. But we know that isn‘t true. Our make work is causing us to take shortcuts - our pointless jobs are causing us to break down and buy fast food because we don't have time to cook. They encourage us to dump chemicals on our gardens and lawns, rather than build soil - we don't have time for that. Our make work is cutting into the time we could spend playing with our kids, or educating them, taking care of elderly people we love or volunteering with others. It cuts into our time for community building, chopping wood, growing gardens, cleaning up messes, avoiding pollutants, being frugal, cooking dinner, making love, stopping the war.

We're doing things that don't matter that actually make things worse. So we've got to stop. I'm not saying instantly. I'm not saying tomorrow, and I‘m not saying everyone. This is hard. But maybe, just maybe, we could stop this war and improve our lives if we started to ask "what needs doing" not "what can I do to make money." Everything we do to stop needing money, to meet our needs at home and in our local community - by growing food, fiber, fertility, or making things, or helping one another and caring for one another, is something that means we need to pour less cash into the war coffers and less cash into the make-work economy.

How do we do this? We start rethinking our relationship to our work. If you can, one spouse quits their job, or gets a new one doing something that is useful and important. If you haven’t got a spouse, and can, cut back on overtime, or offer to take less money in exchange for one day off per week. Or both of you drop your hours back and work less. Maybe you are just getting by where you are, but living in a less expensive place, or taking in your sister as a roommate, or caring for your parents would make it easier. Or maybe you can’t do anything at all - you can’t get along any other way, or your job is so desperately important you can‘t stop. Ok, but those of us who can, need to. Even if we've trained for a make-work career, maybe we need to switch to something that really matters, like caring for the sick and disabled, or making things we import from other nations, or fighting for justice. Each year, perhaps we can grow a little more food or buy a little less, live more within our means and make our means a little smaller. And some
people can slip out of the public economy altogether and become war tax protestors. Most of us can't. But we could make less, spend less, give more to the causes we care about directly, and less to the war effort and the public economy.

The bad news is that if enough of us did this, it would crash the public economy. The reality, however is that a crash in the public economy is probably inevitable, and more importantly, sometimes you have to break some eggs. Economists are fine with this when, for example, we are trashing our manufacturing sector and throwing people out of work - then it is called creative destruction. I suspect they'll be less happy about trashing the capitalist economy so that we can get rid of the war machine. But in the end, sometimes, you do what's right. That was one of the great arguments about slavery, about the end of the British Empire - the nay sayers said “It will hurt us financially to do this.” And yes, that was true. Not stealing money from other people, not enslaving them makes the people who had been stealing and slaving less rich. But some things you do because they are right, not because they are expedient. Ceasing to fund evil, ceasing to support imperialism you do because it is right.

The good news is that worldwide, only about 1/4 of all the work we do takes place in the public economy, the world of GDPs and tax accounts. The rest of the things that the world go round, most of the work that most people in the world do, is subsistence labor, or under the table labor, barter or other things that don't get counted in the GDP. That is, most people in the world get their eating money and the things they need not from their company who is traded on a stock market, but from Raoul down the road who repairs shoes and takes chickens, and from Mama who loaned us enough money to buy the house without interest, and from cousin Lao who trades work with you at harvest time. The peasant economy, as Teodor Shanin, the sociologist who named it observes, is robust, vital and alive, and based on networks of family and community. And we could live far more in the peasant economy than we do now. Many of us could live fairly comfortably deriving most of our income from the communal and peasant economy, with just enough participation in the larger economy to pay taxes, buy a few luxuries and visit people now and again. Getting out of the public economy does not mean living in poverty - it simply means living differently.

The people in the world who most need to quit their jobs, or cut back their earnings, to work less or live on one income, or a collection of half incomes are the richest people in the world. That's us. We pay taxes that fund the war. We buy the crap that funds our trade deficit. We burn the oil that warms the planet, and get people to make stuff for us by burning oil and then shipping that stuff to us. Money correlates with a whole lot of things, including emissions, environmental impact and your implication in the political system we've acquired. It is, I fear, simply not possible to be rich and not be complicit with doing a great deal of harm. So one of the projects we all have to address is how to be less rich. How to live on less. How to earn less. How to have security with less. How to take only a fair share of the world's wealth, as well as its resources.

Most of us don't want to put our jobs on the table. We don't want to admit that the software we design or the products we sell or the message we give out is not only unnecessary, but destructive, contributing to the things we deplore. Unfortunately, it is true. And true is better than the lies we want to tell ourselves. And if it is true, we have to change - period. On the other hand, wouldn’t it feel better to be doing something other than burying things and digging them
up endlessly?


52 Weeks Down - Week 5 - Eat Seasonally

For a lot of us, now is a good time to start seasonal eating - there is a lot of food being produced right now. So commit, this week, to making a couple of seasonal meals, where most or all of the ingredients are things that are locally available.

The thing about eating this way is that it is so much better tasting than regular food, and it makes everything special. When asparagus is in season, we eat it as often as we can, and then we talk about it dreamily occasionally for months...but to have it at another time would diminish the pleasure. The same is true of everything we anticipate - right now there are huge strawberries with very little taste in the stores, but we're holding out for the first flush of ripe berries from our own patch. The children visit the little white berries every day, and we dream of them at night. But none of us wants to rush it with something old and false and not as flavorful.

There's a food to every season for us - from the first dandilions of spring, through rhubarb and asparagus, to the new potatoes, earthy morels and peas, green beans, apricots and sweet cherries of early summer, on to peaches, watermelon, sweet corn, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Then come the grapes and apples, the first cravings for hearty roots, dried beans, stews and squash. We await the late apples, and the first frosts that sweeten the brussels sprouts and kale, and even in the winter there are new flavors - the taste of sugary parsnips dug out of the ground in December and February, the first bok choy flush on the sun porch in January, the old hen in the pot for chicken and dumplings, the apples and squash that taste best after a few months in storage somehow transformed into something transcendent. And then...the dandilions, spinach and chives again and they've never tasted so good because they've been so long absent. We wouldn't eat any other way.

What's locally available right now? It depends on where you are, of course. In some places not too much. In others, all of summer bounty is already out. Where I am, we have lots of greens - lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, fresh herbs, dandilions galore (it doesn't have to come from a farm!), asparagus, rhubarb, eggs, scallions, fiddleheads and radishes. What can you make with that?

Well, I made a salad nicoise the other day. I mixed all the greens with chives and sorrel, hardboiled some eggs, steamed some asparagus and added a can of tuna and some steamed potatoes from last year. We made a dijon vinagrette, and it was absolutely delicious with some home baked bread and white bean spread (cooked white beans, fresh sage and chives, garlic, lemon).

What else could you do with it? A lot of us don't eat a lot of greens, but our family can't get enough of them. Eli, my oldest, will gladly eat an entire plate of spinach sauteed with garlic, and Simon begs me to make asparagus sauteed with (vegetarian - comes from mushrooms) "oyster" sauce. We look forward to fresh spring greens. Instead of putting cucumber and tomato in our salads (since they aren't here yet), we might put chopped apple and dried cranberries (apple stored from last season). If we wanted it to be dinner, some blue cheese or cheddar crumbled in is good, or it could be a side dish to something else.

Maybe a spicy omlet? Most people know how to make an omelt, so just fill it with sauteed mushrooms, fresh greens lightly sauteed, perhaps dried tomatoes and hot pepper relish from last year (if you like that sort of thing), and some garlic, of course. Or you could go simpler - just the greens, some onions, fresh herbs.

Or you could make an asparagus sandwich. I used the last of the white bean spread on the bread, but I've also done this with cheese. I sprinkle some garlic vinegar on some toasted bread, add steamed asparagus and scallions, and melt cheese over the top (I like goat cheese, but you can use anything - lots of milk around this time of year).

Want dessert? We make rhubarb compote a lot in the spring - nothing too it, just chop up the rhubarb in the pot, add water (a little makes it thick, a lot makes it thin), sugar (or honey, or maple syrup), and we like a drop or two of almond extract.

Or how about bread pudding? Sooner or later, we all end up with stale bread, and there's milk and eggs galore now. Take your stale bread (if you don't have enough, you can stick it in the freezer until it accumulates), lay it in a pan, mix up a bunch of eggs and milk (an 8 inch pan might take 3 eggs and 2 cups of milk to soak it all - skim milk is fine, or whatever you have, cream will make it scarily rich, but really good), some sweetener (depending on how much you want), some vanilla or almond extract, cinnamon and any fruit you have lying around - overripe bananas aren't seasonal, but sometimes they are cheap and the store throws them out, so we take them. Or whatever berries are ripe (nothing here yet), some leftover rhubarb compote, applesauce, or perhaps you've got something else you'd like to put in - fresh mint, or lemon verbena or a rose geranium leaf or two. Just shove the bread in to the pan, pour the milk mixture over it, add fruit or flavorings and bake for 45 minutes. I shouldn't tell you how good this is with whipped cream, but it really is.

Happy Eating!!!


Friday, May 25, 2007

The Riot for Austerity Meets the Emperor of Ice Cream

"Let be be finale of seem
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."
-Wallace Stevens

Miranda has graciously put together a yahoogroup for us to discuss our rioting for austerity project - she and I are having trouble keeping up with all the comments on all the different posts, so we're trying to bring the discussion together. You can subscribe by sending an email to this address (I'm supposed to be able to set up a link, but so far no luck - but if you go over to Miranda's blog at, you can do it there in a 1 click - have you noticed that Miranda is much cooler than I am? I have.)

You can still post comments on the blogs, or link in through the webring Miranda has put together, but the nice thing about a yahoogroups is that it allows us to have threaded discussions. I really hope you'll join. And don't forget, if you have a blog or website where you are discussing this, link it through Miranda!

I thought it might be worth pointing out why it is we're doing all this one more time. I think it is easy to get caught up in the logistics, and the worries - the "I can'ts" or "it is too hard." And what we are doing is, in one sense, very difficult. As someone says in some now-forgotten baseball movie I once saw, "Of course its hard. That's what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it." I don't know if this being hard makes it great, but I think it is truly possible that by making it clear that this can be done, we might actually get to everyone doing it. And that would probably make us better than we are.

So here are 5 reasons to participate in the 90% reduction challenge.

1. Because we need to make be be the finale of seem. Instead of seeming to act, instead of talking about things like raising mileage standards on new cars, we need to deal with the reality that most of the cars have to come off the road. Instead of talking about biofuels as though they are meaningful substitute for oil, we need to start talking about feeding people in an increasingly hungry world. Much of what is happening now seems to be action, but isn't. The lie that we can keep things basically the same, only with windmills needs to be killed and buried, and the truth brought forth, with all its horny feet.

2. Because what we are doing is simply rational preparation for what is to come. Dave Pollard's analysis of the economic impact of further rises in gas prices is really important the fact that we've absorbed 3.50 gallon gas is no indication that we can continue to absorb price rises. I think Pollard's conclusion is an important one, and should remind all of us that we *will* be making massive cuts in our energy usage sooner or later. But sooner is better for the earth and better for us - voluntary cuts are a lot less painful than mandated ones.

3. Because with great power comes great responsibility. We're rich. If you use a computer and can read this blog, the odds are excellent you are among the richest 10-15% of the people on the whole earth. Yes, I know you don't always feel rich, but you are. So making major, voluntary cuts is not impoverishing yourself - it is balancing the scales a little, making things a little more just.

4. Because in order to keep up our lifestyle, we're doing things like this:,1518,484661,00.html, and that's just plain wrong. Does anyone think that the damned war wasn't about the oil anymore? The less of it you buy, the less incentive you give the bastards who orchestrated this to keep killing them.

5. Oh, and it helps stop global warming too ;-).

Remember folks, the emperors are posturing scum who don't believe that other people matter as much as money and oil. I'm pinning my hopes on be, and the Emperor of Ice Cream!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Childhood, Industrialized

One of the consequences of living in a rich culture is that we sometimes get confused about what really matters. A good example of this is a situation I came upon recently. I got to chatting with a local Mennonite couple that we know slightly (mostly because since we're religious Jews, we stick out as the other people in the neighborhood wearing funny hats), and they told me that they'd contacted their local social services office because they'd like to adopt children. Their five kids are getting older - two are now nearly grown, and they thought it would be nice to share their home with some kids who need one. They were interested in adopting hard-to-adopt kids, including kids with disabilities.

The thing is, not only did they end up not signing up for adoption training, but they were scared to death that a social worker would come investigate their own kids. Because when they told the woman they spoke to on the phone that they had no electricity or running water, the woman started asking pointed questions and demanded their address. When they tried to explain that this was for religious reasons, they were told, "oh yes, we've heard that before." Given that New York state has a plentiful Amish population, I'm sure they have.

And, in fact, in 2004 there was a case in North Carolina of parents of a family losing custody because of neglect. How had they neglected their children? The family was poor, and refused to take handouts or subsidies, and so lived without electricity or running water. By all accounts the children were loved and well fed, simply lived the way our great-grandparents all did.

In 2006, here in New York, the state labor board began invesigating Amish families for their labor practices. The Amish send their children to school only through eighth grade, after which the children are apprenticed out. The state began investigating them for child labor violations - even though the children were being educated in a trade. Apprenticeship has a long history. It can be abused, but there was no evidence that the children involved were having unusual or unjust demands made of them. The problem was that the children, instead of spending their time learning calculus, were learning to work with their hands, work we don't think of as "educational."

Or to use another example, my oldest son is disabled and not yet toilet trained. We would prefer to use cloth diapers with him, but the school legally will not permit my son to use cloth. It doesn't matter that they wouldn't have to do anything more than send the dirty diapers home at the end of the day, instead of throwing them in the trash. The law is the law, so we buy disposables. Fortunately, we can afford them. But if we couldn't it wouldn't matter.

Or even simpler. I still remember the neighbor of my MIL in New York City who asked, "what activities do you do with your child." The child in question was about 15 months old. So when I said we really didn't do any - that we played outside and went to the library occasionally, she didn't quite know how to respond. Parenting a toddler, for her, was taking them to music and art classes. To me, it was having him help to hang the laundry, but I knew what she was asking - was I giving my child a good start?

We've become so accustomed to our wealth and comfort that even childhood has been industrialized. You can now literally lose custody of your children for being poor, or living the way your grandmother did. Good parenting, to a large degree, is defined as taking your kids places so that other people can teach them things, and buying them things - whether toys or experiences. We want our children to have "every opportunity," and most opportunities we value are things you can purchase - that trip to Disneyland, the week at space camp, the computer, the beautiful children's books.

There are two problems with this. The first is that we're raising consumptive children who are being taught that what they can buy matters more than anything. This has been exhaustively documented in books like _Born to Buy_ and _Affluenza_. Among other things, the authors of Affluenza observe,

As affluenza becomes an airwave-borne childhood epidemic, America's
children pay a high price. Not only does their lifestyle undermine the
children's physical health, but their mental health seems to suffer too.
Psychologists report constantly rising rates of teenage depression and
thoughts about suicide, and a tripling of actual child suicide rates since
the 1960s.

Much of this stems from the overscheduling of children to prepare them
for our adult world of consumerism, workaholism and intense competition.
In some places, this reaches truly ridiculous levels. Since the passage of the
No Child Left Behind At, nearly 20 percent of American school districts
have banned recess for elementary school children. The idea, as one
Tacoma, Washington, school administrator put it, is to 'maximize instruction
time to rpepare the children to compete in the global economy.' This is nuts
We're talking second graders here....

What kind of values do our children learn from their exposure to
affluenza? In a recent poll, 93 percent of teenage girls cited shopping
as their favorite activity. Fewer than 5 percent listed, 'helping others.'
In 1967, two thirds of American college students said 'developing a
meaningful philosophy of life' was 'very important' to them, while fewer
than one-third said the same about 'making a lot of money.' By 1997
those figures were reversed. A 2004 poll at UCLA foudn that entering
freshmen ranked becoming 'very well off financially' ahead of all
other goals.

Juliet Schor survyed children aged ten to thirteen for their
responses to the statement 'I want to make a lot of money when I grow up.'
Of those children, 63 percent agreed,; only 7 percent thought otherwise.
Asked about their 'highest priority' in a 1999 poll taken at the University
of Washington, 42 percent of those surveyd cited, "looking good/having good
hair." Another 18 percent listed "staying inebriated," while only 6 percent
checked "learning about the world."
(Affluenza, 61-62)

We have come to believe that good parenting is something you buy, and our children have, as children do, understood us a bit too well - they have learned that the things that matter are all things you buy. We no longer think of poverty as ordinary - we no longer look at a small, simple shelter, with enough food and some clean clothes and love and say "that's like our house." Because our house doesn't look like that. And we have a lot more than that. And most people look at simple, everyday, ordinary poverty with fear, distaste and a hint of judgement - ordinary people must have failed somehow. Our children know that. They know that not having stuff and being poor are bad - even if they are poor. Especially if they are poor. Think about that - in a world where all of us are a little less rich, what are we teaching our kids?

But the second problem is even more insidious. It isn't just that we're raising children whose morals are deeply skewed, but more importantly, we're creating a culture in which good parenting is equated with being wealthy. That is, good parenting has become not the provision of love and basic food and shelter, but a host of things that are both superficial and impossible to achieve if you are very poor. In a world where more of us may become poor someday, that means any one of us could face state intervention because of things we can't control. If electricity and running water, your own room and not having to do too many chores are requirements for an ordinary life, what happens if those things cease to be available?

A friend who has read about these CPS cases emailed me recently and asked whether I should keep talking about all the energy cuts we're making. And I worry that she might be right - maybe I shouldn't. For now I still am. But I am aware that in cutting my energy usage down to what represents a fair share, I am risking something more than discomfort - and all parents who do so are taking those risks. That's a fearful thing, if we are to enter into a world where all of us take only our fair share.

I tend to hope that these are isolated cases, and that as long as we love our children and take good care of them, use good judgement and keep them safe, that is enough. I don't demonize social workers -my mother worked for DSS in Massachusetts for more than a decade, and I've met enough foster kids to know that most social workers are honorable and do the best they can at an overwhelming and difficult job. And they don't exist in isolation - they are products of their culture, and it is the culture as a whole that is the problem here. And sometimes poverty does come with all sorts of bad stuff. But not always. And if we cease to be able to seperate out ordinary human poverty from real suffering, we lose something - something that may matter to us personally, and that matters to our society.

Economic status is not virtue. We do not have our wealth because we are better or smarter or wiser than poor people - in this country or any other. I doubt many people would admit to believing that the poor are inferior, and yet we act as though there is something inherent that divides us from the ordinary poor people around us. And we live our lives as though we view material things as more important than kindness, a sense of justice or love for one another. Unfortunately, our children see this. We live our lives as though we are good because we are rich. And children, being children, understand the underlying message. They learn that poor is bad, that wealth is what matters, and they begin to judge us by the standards we teach them.

Children have begun to substitute the objects in their lives for the virtues we wish for them. A good home is good not because of what it does for the child, but because of what it has. And that's wrong - it is a wrong way of thinking, and it may yet come back to haunt us. We start substituting things for experiences, and that way lies...well, we're finding out. It does not appear to lead to closer or happier families.

The problem is us. The longer we think that normalizing being rich and priveleged and lucky will keep the wolf away from our door, the longer we pretend we can all live like the people on tv, the longer we pretend our children hear what we say, but don't watch what we do, the worse off we'll be. And the richer we are, the poorer we are - that is, the less likely we are to raise children who fully understand what self-sacrifice, honor, courage and integrity are - because, in the end, we cannot have those virtues and be rich ourselves - not in a world of increasing scarcity, where our wealth is borne on the backs of others.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Austerity Riot Intro and FAQ are Up!

Here's the Intro to the Austerity Riot/90% Reduction Project:

Here's the FAQ:

And if you are looking for them, here are the rules and regs, over at Miranda's site where they look so much cooler:

If I can ever figure it out, I'll put a permanent link like the ones Miranda has on my blog. Don't hold your breath for technical competence from me, though ;-).

Ok, gotta go garden - the weather is finally decent for a change!


Monday, May 21, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 4 - Grow Food

Now there are so many good reasons to grow your own food that it seems silly to list them, but I will anyone. No melamine. No carcinogens. No GMOs. You know where it came from, and where it has been. Your kids can pick a strawberry or tomato and pop it their mouth without wondering whether they'll get cancer. Oh, and it tastes better, is more nutritious, fresher and nicer. And it doesn't burn fossil fuels, warm the planet, or require a hog manure lagoon. Really one of those win-win situations.

If you haven't been paying attention to the contamination of our food supply, you might want to check out these two articles, detailing the simple truth - the melamine isn't really all that unusual. What's abnormal is that we noticed.!Q2ANignppiNjdd,NdfNjQ25NpBQ5CuQ5CpuNjQ251n(xQ60yuPWiQ60Q7B

Now some of us already have big gardens, and some of us are just getting started. This week's project is to grow more of your own food - in many places, now is a good time to start your garden. If it isn't - if now is your dry season or your winter, just hold this thought and revisit during garden season.

Now if you don't grow any of your own food, the step up from 0 may seem like a big deal, but it isn't really very hard. Get a windowbox or two. Or a pot. You don't have to buy it - cut off the top of a big tin can that you get from a restaurant nearby, and poke holes in the bottom. A 5 gallon bucket (again, with holes), or just about anything will do. Put it in a sunny spot. Add dirt, and your own compost if possible. Plant some food. Put in a few basil plants and a head of lettuce. Or if you have a big container, like a 5 gallon bucket, put in a cherry tomato, with a few lettuce plants underneath. In your window boxes, plant some gem marigolds (good in salad), nasturtiums (even better in salad) and arugula - voila, a decorative salad. Pat Meadows, who knows more than anyone I've ever met about container gardening (she used to run a seed company devoted to container-friendly varieties) has a great container gardening yahoo group - well worth joining by sending an email here:

Or you could join a community garden and get a plot of land. There's no better way to learn to garden than hanging out with lots of other gardeners. Community gardens are cool, and one of those plots is a great way to learn to maximize your return.

Or perhaps you can start on your own lawn. You might consider checking out the books _Food Not Lawns_ and _Micro-Eco Farming_, not to mention Toby Hemenway's wonderful _Gaia's Garden_ about home scale permaculture. Maybe replace some of your foundation plantings with blueberries while you are starting your garden. You don't have to dig raised beds or do anything fancy - just lay some plain cardboard or newspaper over the ground, wet it thoroughly, put some compost, grass clippings and maybe composted manure (or whatever you've got) on the ground and plant right into what you've made. It really isn't that much work!

Don't have enough lawn? How about growing in a neighbor's yard and sharing the proceeds. Aaron has a terrific article about how he did just that with an elderly neighbor. This could both give you more food and improve your community. Here's that article - well worth a read, and one of his best.

If you've already got a garden, what about expanding it? Consider adding fruit trees and bushes, or if you mostly grow food for fresh eating, how about dry corn for cornbread and dry beans? Perhaps you simply need to grow more potatoes or apples or cabbage or onions to last you through the winter? Or maybe if you built a simple coldframe, you could have fresh greens for salad through the whole winter. Perhaps you are one of those people who puts your garden in on Memorial Day and harvests everything before the first frost - you could have fresh food for months more on either side in many cases, with simple season extension techniques like cold frames and row covers.

Or maybe you already do all that. Well, how about a bigger challenge. Maybe you've already got a small farm and livestock. Do you grow any food for your animals? What about some small grains like buckwheat, oats or corn for your hens and your family? You can grow all small grains like grasses in an ordinary garden plot and thresh and eat them - or just give them whole to the hens or goats or whathaveyou. Or maybe you need to expand - maybe you grow all the food you need - could you start a small CSA? When people hear the word "CSA" they think "must be a big farm." But that's not true - we started with 5 customers, and a CSA can be as simple as "I'll grow enough veggies for both of our families if you'll buy the seeds."

There's a huge range of possibilities, depending on where you are. But everything you do to produce your own food makes you more secure, your family healthier and improves the state of the earth. All you need is dirt and a seed to get started - you can grow as you go.


Will Peak Oil Save us from Global Warming?

There's a swedish article over at energy bulletin worth having a look at: In it, Kjell Aleklett of Uppsala University argues that we simply don't have enough carbon to burn to bring about the worst case scenarios of global warming, and that the energy crisis will prevent the outside temperature increases.

I know I'll be watching the responses to this piece, because I'm certainly no climate scientist. In many ways I'd be thrilled to see that Aleklett was correct - I think dealing with peak oil but not with global warming is a much more manageable situation.

On the other hand, I have my doubts, particularly because Aleklett's arguments are based on the IPCC numbers, which are terrifically conservative. The thing is, the Potsdam Institute estimates that our best chance of keeping temperatures below the critical 2 degree threshold means keeping the parts per million of atmospheric carbon below 440 (at which point have 2 out of 3 odds - not that great - of maintaining the lower temperatures). But the IPCC estimate is that we are now at 469 ppm - that is, in order to stabilize the climate we have to lower the atmospheric carbon levels dramatically, because we're already over the line. The IPCC, being a political document, holds the 500 ppm line, but the facts don't back this up. At 500 ppm, we have only a 30% chance of avoiding the critical 2 degrees of warming.

Now Aleklett is right that we probably do have to hold atmospheric carbon levels for some time in order to have a dramatic warming effect, but I think his article, because of its focus on the IPCC, underestimates the time we need to be burning carbon. Even if the direst predictions are right - that oil is past peak, natural gas is about to peak and coal will do so within the next 10-15 years, that means at least another decade of heavy carbon energy use, including a great deal of coal. While it is true that the IPCC models show long term human carbon contributions, what may matter most is simply having enough carbon long enough to get the earth into an irrevocable cycle. In fact, emissions rates are rising much faster than the IPCC report indicates - a paper published today by scientists at the Global Carbon Project shows that the rate of emissions increase tripled between 2000 and 2004 We're burning more carbon, faster, than the IPCC or anyone expected, which means that the IPCC models are dangerously conservative, and Aleklett's analysis is impacted by that.

Now the reason we're trying to hold things below the 2 degree mark is this - climate change has an ugly tendency to accellerate on its own, but most of the things that cause it to snowball are left out of the IPCC report because they are controversial. No one knows exactly how much methane the seas might release, or the soils. So for the most part, the IPCC models leave out the worst possible consequences - that we might already or soon be past the point of no return, at which the earth simply takes over. By setting his baseline against the very conservative IPCC report, which includes comparatively few of the factors that might cause accelleration, Aleklett ignores the reality that we may get to the worst case scenarios even given peak oil.

Now were these factors merely speculative, there would be a case for Aleklett's arguments. But while the exact impact of these factors is not known, most of them represent *observed* phenomena - not speculation about what might happen, but things that are already occurring. That is, this week a report was released that showed that the southern oceans are now saturated and ceasing to absorb carbon
Last year, British scientists began to observe soils releasing their carbon, and artic researches spotted bubbles of methane newly released by northern seas. And of course, the rainforests are already heating up, catching fire and burning - tens of thousands of acres have done so in the last year.

Is Aleklett's analysis possible? It is. Is it complete - I don't think so. For example, none of these take into account the issue of global dimming, which by itself might be enough to push the climate over the edge. Nobel winning professor Paul Creutzen estimates that if global dimming - the particulate emissions that cut the sun's impact on the earth - were taken out, temperature rises would be between 7 and 10 - on the apocalyptic end of things. Global dimming is a particularly important factor if Aleklett is right, because those particulate emissions that are keeping the sun from heating up the planet even more are also products of fossil energy consumption - that is, as we are priced out of fossil energy, or begin to radically conserve, the sun's heating effect is likely to increase dramatically. Even demand destruction is likely to accellerate global warming - one of those rock and a hard places things.

What Aleklett's essay seems to me to imply is something that worries me a great deal - we may have time to up our emissions, but not enough time to get them down. Think about it this way - let us say that Aleklett is correct, and that all three major fossil sources will have peaked by the end of the next decade, and energy prices will get off their undulating plateaus shortly and begin to rise even more radically. What does that do to the world economy? What does that do to our daily lives? And how likely is it that we will then begin a major build out of renewable energy, infrastructure changes, etc...?

The thing is, switching over, even to a very limited and low energy society (one which is largely human powered), much less the "we can have it all with renewables fantasy that most people cling to" - is a hugely energy and money intensive project, much more so that simply going on the way we are. And it depends on our basic ability to keep the economic balls up in the air - that is, having enough capital to invest in even basic public transport, letting our hospitals run on renewables and reinsulating our houses depends on the economy going forward. And right now, our current, debt based economy going forward depends on the economy continuing to grow, which requires a ton of energy.

It is much less energy and capital intensive to simply go on the way we are, letting the market gradually price people out of things like gas and electricity. So if we're as close to the end, there's a good chance that we can keep things going as long as we don't try and mess with it too much, but we'll have a tough time starting big projects - that is, we have the ability to keep burning the carbon, but not the ability to stop burning it in a productive way.

Aleklett is absolutely right that an analysis of the impact of peak oil on global warming is absolutely necessary, and reliable energy numbers are necessary. I have my doubts that he's right that peak oil will stave off global warming, though.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Getting My Numbers Down

I promise, the FAQ is coming early this week. In the meantime, I'm finding myself mulling over the ways that I can get my numbers down. A surprising amount of it involves buying new stuff, which is worrisome in some ways, but also, I think inevitable. That is, I think all of us are going to end up spending some money this year if we're to make this a permanent way of life. Hopefully what I save will offset them economically, but there will be an energy cost.

Miranda and I have been worrying about how to calculate those purchases - should we give everyone a break on their responsibility for the emissions of things that will lead us to fewer emissions in the long run? Miranda, I think, is pro, and for good reasons - she points out that people want to succeed, and she's afraid that we're risking making people feel like they've failed right up front. So even though this year is to be transitional, she thinks we should give credits for those necessary things - insulation, or clothelines or solar ovens - that make this possible in a comfortable way. And I think she's got a point.

On the other hand, there's an anal part of me that says "But even good stuff creates emissions in manufacture. Shouldn't we be responsible for those things, even if we need them." I also worry because I think that reasoning is seductive to the selfish part of me. I've had people say to me, "You should come talk in our far away place, because you'll help more people save more energy." But I wonder - what if I don't? What if I'm not quite inspiring enough, and I'm just using this as an excuse to take a trip? What if people don't go home and plant gardens or stop using their dryers, and then I just flew all this way? All of which is just a way of saying that I worry about my own temptation when excuses are put my way. Would it be just a little too tempting to buy something mostly just to buy it, rather than because of its environmental benefits. I know myself well enough to know I like loopholes ;-). Anyway, we're still figuring this one out, but I suspect I'm tarring other people with my own occasional bouts of weakness here. Apologies if I'm maligning the rest of you by thinking you might be as easily tempted into cheating as me ;-).

Speaking of cheating, am I the only person out there doing this who is having a "oh, crap, gotta do X before it starts "counting."" Now of course, we all know it counts anyway, so I'm trying really hard to keep those urges under control, but I think I will get a couple of things I need anyway - shoes that my oldest son can't take off easily and lose in the yard, more clothespins, vodka for making homemade liqueurs, and my husband will be buying some beer. I will not buy yarn. I will not buy books. I really, really won't buy yarn or books. I believe my own statements. Really.

Ok, down to the plans for how to reduce my emissions. The one I'm worried the most about is water. First of all, I really like my shower (often the only cone of silence I get in a day), and my kids are usually so filthy by the end of the day that spot washing them would require more water than a bath does. Second of all, you should see the clothing at the end of the day. It poured here for two days, and Eli resembled the swamp thing from the comic book more than a child by the end of the afternoon. In weather like this, with the six of us, and two and half in diapers, I wash every day.

I also need to set up a more formal grey water system than "dumping the water out in buckets." Which means a call to our friend Woody, who fixes cool stuff and tries not to laugh at how un-handy we are. He's already building us two nice looking composting toilets, so we can stop using the commode we inherited from Eric's grandparents for that purpose. Pee already goes straight to the garden anyway. But I'm definitely going to have to think about this water one. Do you think the children will stop getting dirty any time soon ;-)? On the bright side, Isaiah is nearly toilet trained - hurray! He wore underwear to synagogue this weekend, which is quite a milestone. Let us just say that that's one of the last bastions of training pants.

Electricity - I think I'm going to have to get a laptop. The desktop uses a crazy amount of power. The thing is, it is probably necessary anyway, now that Simon wants to use the computer in homeschooling so much. I've been resisting because of the embodied energy, but I've got *two* book contracts for this year, and I think I'm going to have to have better access and less energy intensive solutions than I've got now. We can sell the desktop. I'd use the local library, but that's a five mile walk or drive, and they have a 45 minute time limit. The fridge is going to go - we're going to keep the freezer for a while and see how that goes, but we'll unplug the fridge and use rotating ice packs in a cooler to keep food cool. We've already got some solar lanterns, and we use pretty minimal lighting. The killer will be the electric stove - I'm hoping to build at least one more solar oven, and maybe buy a professional one, since mine don't get much over 320 except on crazy hot days - which we don't have many of. We're also going to build an outdoor masonry oven, as seen in the book _Earth Ovens_ so we can use small quantities of wood to bake and keep the heat out of the house. Also, a good tip I got at Sue Robishaw's website - whenever the solar oven is empty, heat water in it, and use thermoses to keep it warm - instant soup, tea, coffee or whatever water.

Heating will be tough because the house is so crazy huge. We always shut off a portion of it, but the problem is that we have a lot of guests, and while we don't mind having the heat at 55, not everyone really likes it. Most of our wood will be no problem, but I'm not sure what we're going to do about the visitor thing. The thing is, we love our visitors - they are people who are generally important to us, and we want them to be happy because they've often travelled a long time on a rare occasion to get out to the boonies to visit us. I don't want everyone to respond to being here by running rapidly into the night.

Ok, more on this when I get a chance, because my soup, cornbread and asparagus are waiting!


Pandemic flu, Meet Peak Oil.

Miranda and I are hard at work on some minor revisions and an FAQ for the 90% down project, but I wanted to direct your attention to a recently released Pentagon report on the military's preparations for bird flu. I think this is important for several reasons. Here's a summary of the report: - a link to the direct report is contained within.

The military is preparing for a sustained, recurrent epidemic of avian flu, with a mortality rate of about 1 out of 100, major societal and economic disruptions, and to see our medical infrastructure totally overwhelmed, and many of us in effective quarantine. There are two reasons why this is important. The first is that this could actually happen - every account I've seen suggests that at some point our bodies will come into contact with a flu variant we've not got much immunity to, and the results will be disastrous. For example, even allowing for the possibility of many unrecognized cases, the mortality rates of avian influenza in humans are extremely high, especially among young children. This is, to say the least, worrisome.

Now it is also unlikely to happen in any given year. This essay is not intended as scaremongering - the likelihood of the virus mutating quickly is comparatively small. The issue here is prudence - is it serious enough to be worth thinking about? I think so. And are the intersections of avian flu likely to affect other factors, that is, to bring about some kind of crisis? I think for that we have only to look at Hurricane Katrina - to the New Orleans still not rebuilt, to the refugees who remain refugees two years later. Our society has proved its inability to cope with a localized, if severe disaster. Why on earth would we believe it could handle a national one?

An article in Foreign Affairs (which is not a hype-driven source) estimates that worst case scenarios suggest up to 20% of those affected could die - 16 *million* people. Now that is unlikely, and extreme - the military is expecting the death rate to be much more in line with CDC averages - about 1 in every 100 people. But that's an awful lot as well. The Foreign Affairs article is here:, and it is worth noting that its estimate of the economic costs is sky high - 166 billion dollars just for medical care, not including vaccination (a vaccine for a specific strain will require a minimum of 6-9 months, if it is possible at all - and remember, viruses mutate - by the time we have one, it may not be the same virus). There is no firm estimate of the national or world economic costs, but think about it.

All transport between communities is restricted. That's it for the travel industry for the duration. Schools are closed, as are entertainment venues, churches, mosques and synagogues, malls and all non-essentials. And this could last for 18 months or longer - how long before widespread unemployment leads to basic, structural breakdowns in the economy. And given that our economy is already stressed by high energy prices, inflation, housing problems and currency difficulties, it wouldn't take long to push the US over to a major recession. Think about the lines for basic goods, or the shortages of things you rely on - food, water, clothing, tools. Think about nutritional imbalances likely in food distribution, and the way information is likely to fail to travel.

During periods of influenza outbreaks, how many of us believe that we'll be hard at work on adapting our infrastrucutre to climate change and energy depletion? How many of us will be at community meetings, or at our jobs keeping the grid in order or helping people reinsulate their houses? How much time will be lost to illness and quarantine, and when things level off, will we be able to get started again? I'm not much for fast crisis/crash scenarios, but this one seems like it really could deeply affect our long term ability to deal with economic and energy crises (not to mention climate change).

The healthcare infrastructure will likely be overwhelmed - millions of people, 50% of those affected, are expected to be treated in hospitals. Given that medical personnel are likely to contract the disease early, those facilities will likely to be totally overwhelmed. Estimates of hospitalizations are listed here: Which means that everyone with a brain will want to stay as far away from medical care as possible whenever possible - because if you go in to the hospital or pharmacy to pick up of a prescription or deal with a broken arm, nearly everyone is likely to have the flu around you. So there will be corrollary casualties, and a real need to be able to meet your own health care needs.

Now my rural area has nothing like enough beds, hospitals or medical care to tend the sick, and neither does any region I'm aware of. So we should translate the Pentagon's plans to quell rioting and guard hospitals as "even if you are very sick, you may not get any medical care." The US has very minimal stocks of flu relieving drugs, and as we mentioned, a vaccine may not come quickly. We have seen in Hurricane Katrina and with the response to the recent tornadoes that the military tends to be most concerned with "securing" an area, rather than actually helping anyone. That is, if the military comes to your region, there is every chance that they will be there to point guns at people who want to do things like travel for medical care or to help out family, and less chance that you will find them helpful. The references to rioting probably mean scared, sick, hungry, desperate people who would like to have a better situation, and the military who will probably try and stop them from things like taking food out of stores. Perhaps this sounds cynical. It probably is. It there is also a decent chance it is accurate.

But there's another reason why we should be concerned about pandemic flu and this military report. Pandemic avian influenza (or some other form of pandemic - a new strain of swine flu appeared recently, although it is rarely mentioned) might not be that big a deal. It may turn out that the high death rates lower as the virus mutates to become communicable. Or it may not be that communicable, giving our bodies time to adapt to it. The reality about flu pandemics is that we're due for one - sometime in the next century. All this worry may be for nothing.

Except, it probably isn't nothing. That is, it is worth noting that pandemic flu is an excellent excuse for instituting nation-wide martial law, limiting basic freedoms, and controlling freedom of assembly, public discourse and access to both information and goods. Now, if we hadn't seen the last 7 years, you could rightly call me a wacko-conspiracy theorist for this. But can anyone who has seen Guantanamo really believe that the current administration wouldn't use a flu crisis to consolidate power? In fact, they might even be right to institute restrictive measures - no one will probably no how severe the outbreak will be until it has been around a while. The question is, how likely will our government be to simply relinquish power in a crisis. Hmmm....

This means we should be worried about two things. The first is that pandemic flu might be a true medical disaster. The second is that it might not be, but it might still result in economic, political and other crises, because it represents a really good way for our government to take power - and it represents something to blame the current concatenation of economic factors on. Flu may become the bad guy for all sorts of problems - which is important to know, because we're very much unlikely to do what is necessary if all the fault lies in the flu.

Now let's add the current situation into the mix, and assume that a human form of avian influenza develops this fall or next. Oil is peaking, energy prices are rising steadily - we certainly expect $4 per gallon gas this year, and potentially even higher prices and gas lines. The economy is teetering as well, as is the housing market which has funded nearly 20% of all jobs, directly or indirectly (that is, not just jobs building houses, but jobs decorating them, and also jobs in travel and shopping which is what people are spending their equity on).

It seems likely that among other things, whether it is true or not, avian flu will be held responsible for whatever crisis occurs (remember that juggling thing?). And that a firm response will have to be taken. Now I don't know what form a firm response would take, but it is likely to put things like climate change and peak oil on the back burner, further delaying our response. It is also not likely to make us happier or freer. And I'd be just shocked, shocked and appalled (I really would be appalled!) to find that it affects the outcome of our elections.

As I've said, I'm not much for fast crash scenarios, and I don't think this is hugely likely. But at a minimum, it offers a model in which things could go from 0 to hell in a very short time, and all our mitigation strategies might collapse underneath us. Again, the problem is that at some point, our ability to cope begins to fall apart.

Are you ready for an economic crisis that begins this fall, restricts your access to basic goods and adaptive tools, and stresses the economy? Are you ready to spend 3-18 months mostly quarantined in your house, with distribution of food, water and information controlled by your military?

On a personal level, knowing that our government is thinking mostly about how to keep us contained, not how to treat us in a medical crisis, we should all be fairly well prepared to deal with things on our own. And that's a problem, because the best possible response to peak oil and climate change is community organizing. And in a quarantine situation, where everyone is struggling to feed themselves and avoid getting sick, our community structures are likely to collapse under us, as is our collective ability to deal with longer-term crises.

Here is what I would take from these materials.

- Be prepared to meet most of your basic needs for an extended period - the timeline is probably 3-5 months for the first outbreak, followed by another within 3-10 months. In a worst case scenario, much of the nation and its economy could be shut down for months, even more than a year. Government unemployment would run out, communities ability to collect taxes from people not being paid would collapse, and health care costs would overrun everything else. So have food, medicine and the ability to handle a sustained crisis at home. Make sure you can live with power outages, because, as the Foreign Affairs article notes, grid crisis is a possible outcome. Store food. Store water. Store basic medication. Get basic medical knowledge together so you can treat medical problems yourself if possible (be careful doing this). Keep healthy - and think hard about what risks you want to take, particularly if you have elderly people, children or the disabled in your house. Ultimately, try and have the means to live without your jobs for a good long time if necessary - you don't want to risk a serious illness because you need to make money to feed yourself.

- Get prepared *NOW* - that is, assume that this could happen as early as this year. It isn't likely, and I don't want people to panic, but it also isn't impossible. So where you are now, and what you have now or can do in the next months is likely to effect you for some time. There's no reason to stop planning a move or a change, but make sure you can meet your own needs where you live right now. Find a way to collect water, store food, start a garden, plant some fruit trees, stock up on blankets and flashlights. It can't hurt, and it might just help someday.

- Don't count on government help, including military help. Remember, we had a tough time dealing with one, highly localized tornado crisis, or with the Gulf Coast. Now imagine that there are multiple crises all across the nation. The military is likely to be heavily hit by the flu, simply because they are widely dispersed across the world, and pulling them suddenly out of Iraq or Afghanistan is likely to cause a crisis too. Even the best intentioned government (and when was the last time we had one of those?) is likely to be incompetent.

- Because of the potential economic consequences, I would expect quarantine orders to come in well after it was optimal. That is, we've seen that this government is most concerned with keeping the economy happy, regardless of cost. So I wouldn't wait for your community to close schools or tell workers to telecommute - make your own plans based on your own risks and level of concern.

- We've seen how the mainstream news responds in a crisis. Try and keep real truth moving along - write and talk about what is really happening in your community whenever possible. If we can't gather in person, resist in writing. Don't let this be an excuse to lose what is left of our freedom.

- If avian flu turns out not to be the disaster it could be, we have to keep our eyes on the real problems - on preparing for energy crises and climate change. Keep advocating that we keep our focus.

- Think about how your community would manage its infrastructure if gathering was impossible. Come up with an alternative to the "everyone for themselves" strategy our government is proposing. Consider community food stockpiles, phone trees, local non-electric water sources, virtual town meeting set ups, ways of distributing food, checking on the elderly and educating kids without person-to-person contact.

- The better prepared your community is, the less likely you are to see federal troops on your ground. Remember, your personal security also depends on the stability of your community and the region around you.

- Finally, recognize that although it is not likely, a fast crash scenario is possible - that is, it is possible that a short term crisis like avian flu (or for that matter a widespread natural disaster) could cause enough disruption that when the crisis is over, we no longer have the resources to make major infrastructure changes. Move your timeline up accordingly, although recognize this is not a time for panic, and it is not the most likely scenario. That is, be rational. Be prepared to get along, but also recognize that it will probably be ok.

I'm sorry that this is depressing. But it is better to know than not to.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Making The Change - 90% Emissions Reduction Rules and Regs

The first thing you will all notice about this is that it says "90%" up there, instead of 93%. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, I did all the calculations out with 93%, and then looked at Monbiot's actual book, and realized that it was 94%. Now you will know what small, petty person I am when you hear that my immediate reaction to that was "Oh, crap - I don't want to give up another 1%, and I really, really don't want to run the numbers again!" But that's not the main reason fro the change. The main reason is this - doing this will involve a lot of regular, daily math. Now if you are one of those ultra smart people who can do fairly complex math in their heads, congratulations. And if you are one of those super-organized people who keeps their records so perfectly that the hope the IRS will audit so they can show off their superior bookkeeping, congratulations again. I hate to tell you this, but I'm a slob, and a lazy slob. While I'm more than willing to live like a Chinese peasant, I'm not at all willing to sit around every afternoon thinking..."Ok, carry the one..ok, I can have 1/17th of a gallon of oil..."

And I suspect that I am rather more like other people than not - that is, I think this whole project will go better if we all use nice round numbers and don't make ourselves too crazy with the calculations. My consultants, Miranda and Aaron also seemed happier with the nice round numbers. So I picked 90% as a target figure, because that means we can all work with the same basic figures, only at 1/10th the average. I also rounded most averages to the nearest round number. On the other hand, I was conservative in other ways, as you'll see, so I think this comes out solidly at or below 90%. And 90% is a big old cut, especially without any government help. But I'm happy to try and continue the cuts after 90%, because once we're down to 10% of the average, we're working with nice round numbers again - that is, each additional percentage is a convenient 10%. But let's concentrate on getting down 90%, and we'll go from there.

If you'd like to do this more precisely, I'll gladly send you my original figures, and you can calculate your stuff any way you'd like.

The Rules of the Game are as follows:

1. EVERYONE can play. Even if you only think you can make a major reduction in a few categories, or 1, you are invited to join us. Every drop in your emissions is a huge accomplishment, and another person who can stand up and say "I can do it, even without any systemic help - therefor, we can all do it." The goal is to reach 90% - but some of us will probably fail. A 20% reduction is still something to be proud of.

2. The time period is 1 year - the goal is to reach a 90% reduction (or the best each of us can do) *AND KEEP IT THERE* after 1 year. That is, we're not dropping our emissions instantly and then going back to business as usual later - the goal is to use this year to figure out what we need to do, what kind of adaptations we need, and how to change things. I suspect for a lot of us, initially the project will be figuring out what we need and acquiring or making those things, so particularly the consumption and garbage portions of this may be difficult initially.

3.Ideally, we'll all calculate and post our approximate usage at the beginning of our personal projects. Please do send in an official "I'm in and here are my numbers email as soon as you can manage it, so we can keep head counts and info around."

4. Every week we post an update - you can put yours on your blog (email your blog links to Miranda at, and she'll hook you up), or update on the comments section of either Miranda's or my blog. Let us know how you are doing, what you are having trouble with, what your numbers are, what you want help with, what your best ideas are. We want to hear how it is going!!!

5. Otherwise, you are in charge of making choices. We have left categories like health care and housing out of this, on the assumption that you aren't going to buy a new house, or give up needed medical attention. If you want to include some of these issues, great. If you need to opt out of a category altogether, fine. If you disagree with my assessment, say, of how things should be calculated, certainly tell me - you may have a better method than I do - but you can also feel free to make your calcuations differently. Just tell us what's going on.

6. If you live in another country than the US, you'll have to do your own baseline - it isn't very hard, and your government websites should have the information. For Canada, Australia and the US, Monbiot's calculation is that reductions must be above 90%, so you'll probably want to use the 90% figures with your own national averages. Most of the rich EU nations are in the mid-to-high 80s, and he doesn't offer figures for other nations. I leave it up to those from other countries to figure out whether they want to try for the 90% reduction ,or choose another number - 80% or 85%. Those are the only numbers Monbiot lists, but I can probably help you figure out an approximate for your country if you email me.

7. If you use a renewable or sustainable resource that I haven't mentioned, email me. I'll add it to the list, and come up with a figure for it.

8. One of the things I think is most important is that we admit when/how/where we fail. We're trying to do something very difficult, and we're doing it without the support that would make this much easier. If there are places where a lot of people can't accomplish a reduction, this is a good argument for some kind of larger intervention.

Some things will be easy for one of us, but not another. I think food will be easy for my household, but gas a real struggle. Other people might find the opposite.

9.Ultimately, this is a support network. We're trying for real and radical change, and also to offer up a model for other people who might want to make these changes. Be kind and be supportive.

10. Remember, when you falter, we can do this. And that Miranda and I are very grateful that you are doing this along with us!!!

Ok, here are my calculations. I've done my very best to make this simple. Whenever possible, I have rounded numbers, so that it would be easy to figure out specifics. Also, whenever possible I have used individual usage and short time periods. Unfortunately, I haven't always been able to find data for shorter periods or for individual usage, in which cases, I've put household, or annual figures. This is imperfect science, but you do the best you can - I think it mostly evens out. But final calculations will be made as yearly, household figures. That is, if your spouse has a job and you stay home with the kids, you can give some of your gas allotment over to her for her commute. And if you need a/c 2 months a year to survive, you can cut back more in the winter. The goal is to be able to meet these goals annually.

The estimates I'm giving for renewable resources may be controversial. I welcome discussion of the subject, or better guidelines - remember, better, but simple. I've tried to be very conservative - that is, I'm trying to err on the side of greater emissions reduction whenever possible. In that interest, I've measured, for example, the net energy return of some renewables as much lower than, say, a company that makes them would. For example, I give no credit at all for ethanol or biodiesel, since I think they are no better and perhaps worse in the emissions department. In the end, if you really disagree, feel free to use your own numbers, just explain how you are calculating things.

We're dividing this into 7 categories. You do the calculation for each one. We've included water, even though it isn't by itself a greenhouse gas problem, because water stress is one of the most serious and immediate consequences of global warming.

If you work out of the home, or spend large quantities of time out of your home, you should include calculations for your work environment, or school environment - % of your time, energy used, divided by number of people using it. Now you may not have much control over this measurement, and if you don't, I suggest you keep three tallies - one for home energy, one for work energy, and one for your total energy in each relevant category. But the good thing about including your work is that this offers incentives for trying to get your work to be more efficient as well. Who knows, you may fail, but it is worth a try.

If you want to look at the figures, you can find most of them here: Statistics for water are quite variable, but the best I came up with is this: Garbage figures are here:, and consumer spending is from the updated version of Juliet Schor's _The Overspent American_. Food data came mostly from Marion Nestle's _Food Politics_ and Dale Pfeiffer's _Eating Fossil Fuels_.

Here are the 7 categories:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.

-No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.

-Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH

- Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback - that is, you get twice as many watts.

-Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods - you get 4 times as many.

3. Heating and Cooking Energy - this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use multiple sources, you are going to have to do some more complicated math to figure out how to divide things proportionally. If you need help, email me. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.

- Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider.

-US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR

-Heating Oil (this is used by only about 8% of all US households, mostly in the Northeast, including mine).

-Average US usage is 750 Gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.

- Wood. This is a tough one. The conventional line is that wood is carbon neutral, but, of course, wood that is harvested would have otherwise been absorbing carbon and providing forest. There are good reasons to be skeptical about this. So I've divided wood into two categories.

1. Locally and sustainably harvested, and either using deadwood, trees that had to come down anyway, coppiced or harvested by someone who replaces every lost tree. This is deemed carbon neutral, and you can use an unlimited supply. This would include street trees your town is taking down anyway, wood you cut on your property and replant, coppiced wood (that is, you cut down some part of the tree but leave it to grow), sustainably harvested local wood, and standing and fallen deadwood. You can use as much of this as you like.

2. Wood not sustainably harvested, or transported long distances, or you don't know. 1 cord of this is equal to 15 gallons of oil or 20 therms of natural gas.

4. Garbage - the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

-Rainwater you collect is unlimited.

6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn't perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.
The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on
consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc... Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we're mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, paper goods, etc... A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

-Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc... but not goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out - that is, if someone says, "If you don't buy it, I'm going to toss it." Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills. Because garbage is such a heavy methane producer, making use of stuff that would be thrown away is a great improvement!

-Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here's the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.

#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly - it doesn't have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 50-100 miles to me (you can choose your own metric - we'll be using 50). This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.

#2 is is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, beause Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don't constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods - meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc... (we're going to assume you'll buy organic whenever possible, but transporting water and wet things around is still way too energy intensive) transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc... And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of the average person's diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you'd use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

Ok, let me know what you think and if you are still in! My brain hurts!

Here are our best estimates: Right now we're using:

Gas: We've achieved a 71% reduction - I think this will be our toughest category, especially dealing with Eli's bus ride to the private school for the disabled he attends.

Electricity: We've achieved a 60ish percent reduction - we're still trying to estimate the impact of Eric's job and Eli's school, but 60 is about right.

Heating oil: We used about 55% less than average last year, because our original woodstove was disconnected during the house renovations. We used almost no wood for the same reason.

Garbage: This one isn't clear to me, because we've never weighed our garbage before this week ;-). But if the last week is any representative, we make about 1/3 the garbage of the average family.

Water: We've got about a 60% reduction, less than we would have if our new composting toilets were finally set up. We haven't been as conservative about water, particularly for bathing, as we might be, because we live in a wet climate. This will make us be more careful. It'll also make me get the cistern finished!

Consumer goods: This year is probably not very representative, because we're still on our not-buying things year. We actually are very close to a 90% reduction, and most of what we spent was on seeds and plants, and I'm not sure whether this should fall under food or goods. I actually suspect we'll get to buy more stuff - because we can rescue used goods - doing this than we have in the last year ;-).

Food: Again, we're not very far off of this one right at the moment - maybe 80%? But the change on this one will be somewhat difficult because it will mostly involve our kids, especially Eli, who is very attached to certain things like popsicles and cheerios.

So we've got a lot of work to do. I'm excited, and nervous. I hope you are excited too!