November 30, 2012

Live Simply - Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Complexity and consumption increase the size of your carbon footprint

Want to do your part for climate change? Living a more simple, less energy-intensive lifestyle can be a good way to contribute. Taking responsibility for your own carbon footprint is a step you can take whether world leaders can agree on a Kyoto replacement or not. 

Climate change denial has been harder to spin since Sandy struck. Hopefully that catastrophic event, and other weird weather globally, will have an impact on the UN Climate Change Conference negotiations taking place in Qatar over the next few days.

Qatar, an oil-producing nation, has the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world. But I can't say much about my country, either. Canada is the largest consumer of energy in the world per capita, and the second largest producer of greenhouse gases (after the United States). We have just over 30 million people, but we use as much energy as the entire continent of Africa, home to 700 million.

The good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Living more simply offers many ways to reduce your personal contribution to climate change. It could be as easy as walking more often. As Steven Wright said, "everywhere is within walking distance if you give yourself enough time". 

Here are a few other actions you can take, ranging from run of the mill responses to more outrageous ideas.

  • live close to work, or to a pubic transportation network. Or work from home. Or, if practical, quit work.
  • walk, bike, skip, hop, run, jog, roll - all are low carbon footprint activities.
  • consider vacationing at home, or close to home. 
  • quit vacationing altogether after you quit working and no longer  need to "get away".
  • bus, train, and ships are the among the most efficient methods for long distance travel. Sailboats and horses are pretty good too.

  • grow/raise as much of your own food as you can
  • if you don't have access to soil join a community garden
  • support local organic farmers
  • eat low on the food chain
  • stay away from convenience foods of dubious nutritional value with a lot of packaging
  • keep to the outside of the grocery store where all the fresh food can be found
  • eat less - the average North American could eat a few hundred calories less per day and be healthier
  • raise back yard chickens
  • guerilla garden in empty or abandoned lots

  • live in a smaller home and cut energy use, utility bills, and CO2 emissions. 
  • replace lawn with a veggie garden and fruit trees
  • make your home as energy efficient as possible
  • install solar panels and/or a solar hot water system
  • compost organics and recycle everything else
  • stop buying unnecessary stuff - high consumption lifestyles are high carbon footprint lifestyles
  • say no to single use/disposable products
  • lower your thermostat in winter, raise it in summer

The Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of this year. Hopefully, political interest in lowering carbon emissions doesn't also expire. Either way, tackling your carbon emissions through your very own low-carbon, simple living protocol is a way to contribute now.

GHG Emissions for 20 Common Foods

November 28, 2012

Small Is Still Beautiful

The phrase 'small is beautiful' was popularized by economist E.F. Schumacher with his 1973 book by the same name. The idea for the title of his book came from a phrase used by one of Schumacher's teachers, Leopold Kohr.

'Small is beautiful' was meant to challenge popular ideas like 'bigger is better' and 'growth is good', and to slow the relentless march toward increased complexity and waste. The philosophy promotes smaller, appropriate technological solutions that empower people more, and respect nature's laws.

Schumacher thought that our "aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." He could see in the 1970s already, that western economies and lifestyles were unsustainable.

Since Schumacher's influential book was published the world has become even bigger and more complex as a result of the push for constant growth. In spite of this, small is still beautiful. Small is the way to go, now more than ever. It is inevitable.

So get ready for a smaller, more efficient world - it is the only way out that we have.

Gail Tverberg, is a commentator on peak oil and is the author of the blog, Our Finite World. About a future smaller world she says:

"I think that the direction in years ahead will be toward reduced trade of all sorts. By definition, every country will become 'more independent,' including more 'energy independent'. Whether or not current lifestyles are supportable with lower trade is another question."

Small space living
Smaller amounts of trade means increased independence and an emphasis on self-reliance. In this and other ways, our world is about to get smaller. Current lifestyles won't last, and our expectations will need to shrink along with our support networks.

We have been led off on a tangent and are far from the ways of moderation. Schumacher knew how we could get back on the right path.

"Modern economics considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity," he says. "Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful."

Living simply with a reduced ecological footprint is the lifestyle that best matches the smaller world that we will be living in soon. It will be a world of tiny homes, staycations, home cooking, walking, biking, and public transportation. A smaller world of local economies and the building of things that people actually need over the wasteful production of frivolous luxuries.

We should not look at this transition to tiny as a bad thing full of painful sacrifice. Rather, we should embrace the return to a more human scale and pace of life that is better for us and everything around us.

The book Small Is Beautiful highlighted the benefits of adopting a saner, smaller approach, including some of the personal payoffs.

"The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity."

That sounds right to me, and much better than a life of endless toil and conspicuous consumption.

November 26, 2012

Doing The Right Thing Monday

It has been said that we live in a world in which politics has replaced right and wrong, and self-interest has replaced respect for the common good. Under such conditions, American grocer Joe Lueken's story is not only right, but is totally righteous.

After 46 years as a successful grocer in Bemidji, Minnesota, the semi-retiring Lueken is transferring ownership of his three supermarkets to nearly 400 employees, despite lucrative offers to sell out to the big grocery store chains.

"My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken said. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."

The family ownership of Lueken's Village Foods feels that turning over the business to the employees at no cost to them is better for the community.

"Employee-ownership at Lueken’s means increased opportunity for employee-owners, their families, and continued support of our community. When profits stay local, everyone wins."

70 year old Lueken credits his approach to life to a simple, straightforward, and once common lesson his parents taught him - "do the right thing".

At times just finding out what the right thing is can be a difficult undertaking. But with "do the right thing" as our guiding principle, eventually we will be led to game changing decisions both large and small.

May we all strive to be like Joe, and do the right thing rather than the political or profitable thing. Even when it is inconvenient. 

November 24, 2012

Why Buy Local? - Infographic

Where we spend our dollars can make a huge difference in how our world works... or doesn't. Even if you aren't buying much of anything, most people have to buy something. Being mindful of the repercussions of our purchases can help us put our hard earned cash where it will do the most good.

Before buying, think about your health, the health of your local community, and the health of the planet. Consider that the cheapest products are not always the best for you or the environment.

(Click to enlarge)
Why Buy Local Infographic

November 23, 2012

Buy Nothing Day 2012

Today is BND in North America, a day chosen to coincide with one of the most manic shopping days in the conspicuous consumption calender, the dreaded Black Friday. Tomorrow, Saturday, November 24, is Buy Nothing Day internationally.

Here at NBA we have elevated Buy Nothing Day to holiday status. Actually, it is our favourite day - it's the only one where you're 'obligated' to not buying anything.

By celebrating the start of the Buy Nothing Holiday Season one can start to think differently about the real meaning of our existence beyond shopping. Are we really just consumers?

There is a reason the people went from citizens to consumers in the eyes of our lame leaders. A great part of industrialized economies are made up of what us ex-citizens buy in our new role as money making and money spending zombies. Consumers fulfilling their shopping obligations in the US accounts for about 70% of GDP, a situation that is reflected in many other consumer nations.

That we buy, and continue buying, is more important than any of the things we used to do as citizens, like vote, participate in  our community, work for the greater good, and speak out in the face of injustice. It is now much easier to fulfill your responsibilities to the state, and be patriotic - just keep on shopping.

If we even so much as slow down our pace of spending as consumers, the wheels start coming off the economic wagon immediately. The consumer spending based economy must grow infinitely or die. We can't slow down in our efforts to buy things, few of which are necessities, or misery for the masses is sure to follow. Or so we are told.

So we work at McJobs, to buy stuff we can't afford, to keep the economic beast fed, so we don't lose our McJobs. Of course the jobs don't pay enough to cover all spending, so we go into debt to buy the stuff we don't need. Canadians, for example, spend $1.63 for every dollar they earn.

Wow. What a system.

It is a wonder that people aren't bailing from this guaranteed-to-fail-model in droves.

Buy Nothing Day is a time to reflect on the global effects of a model based on over-consumption, and the wars that are required to maintain it. A time to think about the exploitative global system that promotes conspicuous wasteful practices in order to provide profit to a select few.

As a celebration of anti-consumption, BND emphasizes being debt free, spending time with family, getting in touch with nature, and supporting more efficient local economies.

Here are a few ways to participate in Buy Nothing Day. They range from active and in-your-face, to more passive and contemplative.
  • Credit card cut up: Participants stand in a shopping mall, shopping center, or store with a pair of scissors and a poster that advertises help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and extortionate interest rates with one simple cut.
  • Free, non-commercial street parties
  • Sit-ins
  • Zombie Walk: Participant "zombies" wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare. When asked what they are doing participants describe Buy Nothing Day.
  • Whirl-mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases.
  • Public protests
  • Wildcat General Strike: A strategy used for the 2009 Buy Nothing Day where participants not only do not buy anything for twenty-four hours but also keep their lights, televisions, computers and other non-essential appliances turned off, their cars parked, and their phones turned off or unplugged from sunrise to sunset.
  • Buy Nothing Day hike: Rather than celebrating consumerism by shopping, participants celebrate the Earth and nature.
  • Buy Nothing Critical Mass: As the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride often falls on this day or near, rides in some cities acknowledge and celebrate Buy Nothing Day.
  • Buy Nothing Day paddle along the San Francisco waterfront. This event is promoted by the Bay Area Sea Kayakers to kayak along the notoriously consumptive San Francisco waterfront.
  • The Winter Coat Exchanges that started in Rhode Island and now have locations in Rhode Island, Kentucky, Utah and Oregon in which coats are collected from anyone who wants to donate, and anyone who needs a winter coat is welcome to take one.  - Wikipedia
Other activities could include taking a brown bag picnic, playing games with the family (ones that don't require electricity), reading a book, taking a nap, visiting a neighbour, sharing a meal, and going unplugged and playing acoustic instruments in a jam with others. The possibilities are endless once you stop thinking about spending and shopping.

But will BND make a difference?

Adbusters, the Canadian anti-consumerism magazine that was instrumental in getting BND going, states that it "isn't just about changing your habits for one day" but "about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.

This is the Anti-Black Friday mentality. Call it White Friday. It is our opportunity to turn from the dark side of debt, waste, guilt, and environmental destruction, and embrace the white light of rational thinking.

November 21, 2012

Truth Seeking Party Poopers

Bearer of truth, or party pooper?

I came across an interesting blog post from 2007 written by Arthur Silber. Although it was written with politicians in mind, the sentiments expressed reflect the general mind set in these days of ignorance and denial. When so many are living a lie, honest folks speaking truths are not welcome, and are often seen as annoying party poopers.

The planet is struggling, as are billions of its human inhabitants. At the same time a small privileged group carries on living the high life as if nothing is wrong.

Uncomfortable truths are discouraged as they are "a downer" and put a damper on the uninhibited enjoyment of luxurious appointments like stainless steel, granite counter tops, annual exotic vacations, new cars, fancy clothes...

There is a major disconnect between the truth and lies, and between a harsh reality and comfortable fantasy. Silber writes:

"It is not simply that our national discourse rests on a foundation of evasions, complicated by equivocations, twisted by avoidance, and rendered into meaningless insignificance by an uncountable series of lies. All of that is true, but it fails to capture the quality that is most striking to the perceptive observer. That quality is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. 
It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are "acceptable" -- phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts. It is as if everyone realizes, but will never state, that we are engaged in an elaborate charade, a pageant of gesture and indication, where substance and specific meaning have been banned."

And what generally happens to those who attempt to, dare to, speak truths? On those "extraordinarily rare occasions"  when truths are identified, the messenger is labeled "extreme, crazy, or a troublemaker".

"You are not 'respectable', you are not to be treated with any degree of seriousness, and you are not to be listened to."

Such individuals, if they are effective enough, will be discredited with less than flattering labels - eco-terrorist, tinfoil hat wearer, communist, and enemy of the state are only a few in the muzzling arsenal.

It has been amply documented that 70 years of rampant consumerism has tainted the human and natural landscapes. The effects of our unchecked desires and waste are quite simply destroying everything, including ourselves.

But try talking about it at a gathering, while out for coffee, or at a party. Linda and I used to do just that with less than encouraging results. We did not speak in meaningless code. We did not observe the ban on uncomfortable truths that might jeopardize the status quo.

We don't go out so much any more.

However, undaunted by our tepid reception, we searched for and found a different soap box on which to stand. We are continually humbled by the small (possibly masochistic) crowd that continues to gather here at Not Buying Anything to hear the bad news for bloated expectations.

 Those same brave people are asking questions that challenge business-as-usual, putting themselves at risk for derision. The good news is that the truth is filtering out into the world, and people are taking up the challenge to live more reasonably and gently upon the earth.

The consumer party is a house-wrecker. That means that the truth seeking 'party pooper' is not trying to bring anyone down, but through their questions and alternative perspectives, bring everyone up.

November 19, 2012

Minimalizing More Monday

A lot of people, when they get together, talk about their new acquisitions. I guess it is a "pride of ownership" thing. A smaller group of people, in the same circumstances, talk not about things they got, but rather things of which they have gotten rid.

Since Linda and I moved from Alberta to British Columbia eight years ago, we have been on a semi-random minimalist mission. The move itself was the perfect excuse to unload years of accumulation, and we downsized our  belongings from a mid-sized moving truck to a utility trailer pulled behind our small pickup truck. 

Our drive west felt more like riding in a balloon with all the ballast thrown overboard. We felt liberated, exhilarated even.

It is demonstrated that some people experience a rush when shopping. I have a similar reaction when I get rid of stuff.

In the summer we took a truck load of things to the second hand store, and last week we took another full load. The more we take out of our small home the better it feels. More space means more room for air, sunshine, and creativity to flow.

This has been a decades long project that is ongoing as things pass through our lives. There is no end, which is ok. It is all about the process of eliminating the superfluous so that the necessary can reveal itself.

We have a way to go before we are down to backpacks, but as we minimalize more, our simple, spartan, and austere dream is becoming a happy reality.

November 18, 2012

Grass: What Is It Good For?

Russia has 18.8 million acres of family gardens, which produce US$14 billion worth of products per year, equivalent to over 50% of Russia’s agricultural output, or 2.3% of the country’s GDP (Rosstat 2007b). 

The United States, on the other hand, have 27.6 million acres of lawn, which produce a US$30 billion per year lawn care industry (Bormann, Balmori, and Geballe 2001).

Grass - what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again...

November 16, 2012

Amazing Feats of Simplicity: The Ancient Teachers

Lao Tzu riding his ox, a symbol of strength, patience and benevolence
Have we collectively failed as students in the school of life? Should we have our knuckles wrapped for not listening to our teachers? I am not a proponent of pain, but eons of ignoring our lessons must be rectified before we are sent to the detention room indefinitely.

I don't know of a single teacher worth their salt, historical or contemporary, that has espoused the positive aspects of wealth accumulation and worldly goods. Similarly, ancient texts generally do not record the 'excellent' results of greed and individual acquisition.

Nor does ancient wisdom advise that future generations exploit nature to the point of collapse.

Unsurprisingly, virtually all ancient teachers that are still remembered today, taught through their lives and their words, the value of living simply in harmony with each other, and the world around us.

Kagemni, an ancient Egyptian philosopher, wrote a text to help students select the right teacher. It reads like a template for the teachers of the past whose teachings have endured.

The Egyptian philosopher's ideal teacher:
  • performs good deeds without expectation of reward
  • respects their responsibilities to the community, and focuses on service to others
  • has compassion for all living creatures
  • accepts joy and sorrow with equal mind
  • is always happy, and
  • lives according to their guiding Principles.
To the good teacher, Kagemni tells prospective students, "gold and dross are as one, nectar and poison are as one, and the king and the beggar are as one".

The following simplicity-related wisdom is from ancient teachers of which I am sure Kagemni would approve. Perhaps if we had heeded their message earlier, we would live in a more enlightened, evolved world today.

Lao Tzu

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”


"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."


"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."


"The greatest wealth is to live content with little."


"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?"

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”


“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”


“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”


“The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveler, who takes rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way.”

Can we learn our lessons on time and avoid endless punishments in our cages of ignorance? Our teachers can only open the door - we have to make the choice to enter ourselves. 

November 14, 2012

Is Your Food Your Poison Or Your Medicine?

While our food can be our medicine, it can also be our poison. The link between illness and western diets, high in animal fats and processed foods and low in fibre, is well documented. The more we move away from whole, unprocessed foods, the more likely we are to experience negative health effects.

A western diet is associated with metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and diverticular disease, a common gastrointestinal disorder.

Metabolic syndrome starts to show up anywhere people leave behind traditional diets heavy in local non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and start chowing down on processed foods and meat. Such a diet tends to be adopted in the newly minted middle class around the world as people have more money to spend. Processed foods, while often not being as healthy, usually cost more.

In a recent study in Brazil, a group of about 300 people had their diets analyzed by researchers. The study found three distinct diets.
  1. Traditional diet - more common among older people
  2. Western diet - more common among the more educated with higher incomes
  3. Healthy diet - more common among the lowest income group 
Of the three diets, the western style diet, which contains sugary drinks and desserts, refined flour, increased saturated fat and processed foods, was the only one associated with symptoms of metabolic syndrome. We are becoming more aware of the health impacts of these alluring, tasty poisons.

Thankfully, you need look no further than your garden for the antidote. Compared to meat eaters, other studies have shown that vegetarians have as much as a 36% lower rate of metabolic syndrome, as well as a 33% reduction in diverticular disease.

It was the traditional and healthy diets in the Brazil study that fared the best when it came to avoiding the illnesses found in western diets. The traditional diet was based around whole foods like beans, rice, flour, and pasta.

The healthy diet group had the least disposable income, and were therefore the ones that gardened the most. As a result they were the least likely to develop metabolic syndrome, and had the best access to local, fresh, and organic produce.

There's your medicine.

November 12, 2012

No War Monday

You KNOW what war is good for - absolutely nothing
Infographic from: source

We talk a lot about the glory and honour of war, and the respect we should bestow upon those who wage it. But you don't hear much from our leaders about ending war. Why is this? Why wouldn't we want to eliminate the most grievously unsustainable activity performed by man (and I do mean man).

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that global military spending was  $1.7 Trillion dollars in 2011. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the figure represented the first time in 13 years that spending didn't increase. 

Before you rejoice thinking that perhaps world leaders are on the road to realizing the error of their ways, a SIPRI researcher credited the leveling out of spending on "the global economic crisis, especially deficit-reduction measures in the USA and Europe". He went on to say that the decade-long rise in spending seemed to be over... at least for now.

When I hear we don't have enough money for clean drinking water, or housing, health care and education for all humans, I call bullshit. When people say we can't afford a social safety net, I call bullshit. Not enough money to develop sustainable energy? Wrong.

Why haven't we eliminated poverty yet? Not enough money? No. Just like all the other persistent problems, there is plenty of money, but there is not enough will to tackle them. It was a lack of will that caused the War on Poverty to be the shortest declared war in US history. In that war, as Ronald Regan said, "poverty won".

I know where we can tap into the cash to solve all of our problems, with some to spare for a planetary party when our work is done and we have achieved a sustainable world in which all people have enough.

Dream a little - what would you do for the planet with almost $2 Trillion bucks in the bank? As we stop war, we will turn the dream into reality.

How To Stop War
  1. Teach kids basic philosophy and logic
  2. Meditate
  3. Stop glorifying violence
  4. Make it illegal to profit from the killing industry
  5. Make the bad men stop and go away - replace them with women 
  6. Create a culture of compassion, cooperation and community
  7. Be kind
  8. Practice forgiveness
  9. Be patient
  10. Find peace with ourselves, then spread it around

November 9, 2012

The J-Curve Of Happiness

A J curve graph illustrates an initial drop in the quantity measured, followed by a rise that is greater and more sustained than the fall. This is why J curve situations can be your friend - over time you reach a point greater than when you started. This promising relationship shows up in many areas of life.

If the relative performance we are measuring is happiness, as did a large survey in 2008, it appears to form the classic J curve. A recent study analyzed the survey data with potentially surprising results - something about aging makes us happier.

Gallup Pole Results

Starting on the left of the J curve graph at age 18, we are generally feeling pretty good about life. But as we leave the freedom and creativity of childhood and venture out into the "real world", our level of happiness drops.

General happiness among the 340,000 Americans surveyed, bottomed out at age 50, then started an upward trend. By age 85, survey participants were at the right side of the graph, and were more satisfied with life than the 18 year olds. Participants experienced a drop in stress and anger from age 22 onwards, while worrying elevated through middle age, then declined.

A J curve relationship leads to performance that exceeds the original starting point
after an initial, and brief drop

As a soon-to-be 51 year old, I find this information heartening, but not surprising. It is reflected in my own experience, and I look forward to my voyage up the long arm of the curve.

Implementing personal change can also follow the J curve. It is that initial drop that often prevents us from making changes - we know that an increase in discomfort is a natural part of the trend, and that creates fear.

But getting all that gain on the J curve, also means that initial bit of pain, and you don't want to quit just before things were promising to improve.

Getting On The J Curve

This has also shown itself in my experience in association with changing from a fast-paced, modern life of careers, commutes, and consumerism, to one more simple and removed from mainstream pursuits. When Linda and I initially launched our dedicated downsizing in 2000 it gave us a dropping feeling in the pit of our guts, like jumping out of an airplane.

There was an initial drop in our comfort level as we learned to adapt to our new circumstances. For a while it was scary and things were uncertain. But then our bottom point was reached, and there was no further increase in our discomfort. We began to enjoy our new situation, and the challenges it provided. It began to feel right.

With continued patience and commitment to our project, things began to turn around. Our life began to evolve and we started toward levels of performance not previously realized, or even thought possible.

Our simple life was delivering abundance, and all on the J curve. After the initial drop we found the upward trend in many areas of our simple existence:
  • amount of time to enjoy life 
  • level of creativity 
  • sense of calmness
  • enjoyment
  • contentment
  • happiness
Or could that be the positive effects of aging? Either way, patience and perseverance pay off.

When things are difficult and we wonder if we have done the right thing, it might be useful to visualize being at the bottom of the J curve.

If we persevere things get better, and often, they get better than they were before.

November 7, 2012

Take The Power Down Challenge

Power down for the planet, and community resilience
Energy intensive lifestyles demand for electricity is currently being met mostly by large scale, fossil fuel powered generation plants that produce large scale toxic byproducts, including climate change and more powerful storms.

Reducing individual power use can minimize the need for building new, expensive, and polluting generation plants. 

Maybe we need to think smaller. Small individual efforts and projects can add up to make revolutionary changes.

Anya Kamenetz recently wrote an article called "If You Had A Microgrid, You Wouldn't Be Waiting For The Power Company". In it she wonders why, post Sandy, we would bother to rebuild dependence on large utility companies and their fragile, centralized for-profit systems, when we could be building community resilience with small scale, on-site renewable energy projects.

Powering down makes it possible to get off the grid altogether, or at least reduce our dependence on this dying model of power generation. Alternatives like solar, wind, methane, micro hydro, and tidal systems can deliver renewable energy to a more efficient population.

Power Down Challenge

Almost 2 billion people live without electricity. Those of us that are fortunate enough to have the advantages of semi-reliable grid power, then, can obviously do some cutting back without perishing. Perhaps, some day, we can power down to the point we can live on 100% renewables.

Conserving energy is a winning strategy personally, nationally, and globally. It can be fun to do whether you are just starting out, are already practicing energy conservation, or are looking for more advanced methods.

Challenge yourself to cut power consumption with some of the following tips.

Just Starting To Power Down

  • Turn off all electrical devices when you are not using them
  • Turn off the lights when not needed, or when natural light will suffice. Daylight increases alertness and productivity
  • Look closely at ecolables (like ENERGY STAR) when shopping, and choose the most efficient items
  • Switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs
  • Set your computer to energy saving mode in "sleep" or "hibernate"
  • Turn your thermostat down in winter, up in summer
  • Have a family conversation about energy conservation - have fun challenging each other to see who can use the least amount of electricity

Have Already Begun Powering Down

  • Use task lighting to avoid lighting large areas needlessly
  • Get rid of the hair dryer and other power-hungry, optional devices (I recently gave away my iron, and don't miss it)
  • Become familiar with your power bill - make comparisons of year over year monthly and annual changes
  • Take shorter showers, or fewer showers, or both
  • Use power during off-peak hours to save money while reducing stress on the grid
  • Sealing and insulating your home makes it more efficient, comfortable, and cost effective
  • Where appropriate, install motion detectors for lighting, or timers for lighting or fans
  • Turn off the TV, radio, computer, DVD player, sound system

Looking For More Radical Power Down Ideas

  • Use a real-time energy monitor in your home to learn more about your energy usage
  • Install a programmable thermostat
  • Consider if a tankless hot water system is right for your home
  • Move to a smaller home
  • Turn off the heat and/or air conditioning
  • Cook on a wood stove
  • Get an energy audit to find out how efficient your home is, and what upgrades are most beneficial
  • Take bucket baths
  • Install a solar panel, or solar hot water system, wood stove, or other sustainable energy project
  • Tell another person about taking the Power Down Challenge
  • Give away the TV, radio, computer, DVD player, sound system 
  • wash laundry by hand, hang on line to dry
  • Sit quietly, read a book, go for a walk, take a nap...

If you have made it this far in the post, you may be ready to accept the Power Down Challenge. It can be fun to break habits and routines, and see how little power you can live with.

How will you know how you are doing? Check your power bill - are you saving money, or paying more? Often you can access all your consumption data online so you can see your patterns change as a result of your conservation efforts.

Get ready for the micro-grids - coming to a pro-change, resilient neighbourhood near you soon.

Have a favourite energy-saving tip of your own? Please share in a comment below.

November 5, 2012

Powering Down Monday

There is a lot of discussion right now about our energy future. Although most economists have not yet made a connection between the economy and the limits of natural systems, those less invested in the current paradigm know where we are headed. Unless your head is buried in a pile of cash, you can see that infinite economic growth in a finite system is not possible.

We have a limited amount of energy available to us, renewable or non-renewable. The cheap energy we have enjoyed in recent years is all but gone, which is putting extreme stress on all our systems. Less accessible, more expensive energy will be the end of our current energy intensive way of life.

Barring a stunning energy discovery in the near future, our only option will be to power down. We are going to have to reduce our energy consumption dramatically, and our standard of living will change.

But a lower standard of living does not have to mean a lower quality of life. Perhaps some of the changes that we will have to make in the coming decades will be improvements.

Living a more simple, more sustainable lifestyle is one way that we can power down, and perhaps increase our quality of life at the same time.

Coal is the most common source of energy for electricity production globally

We can look to Australia as an example - they have recently experienced an unprecedented drop in electricity usage. There, a 2011 Energy Update showed an almost 7% decrease in grid electricity consumption over the previous two years.

The reasons for Australians powering down during this time period are somewhat sketchy, but some have hypothesized as to what is contributing to this conservation conundrum.
  • Energy efficient commercial buildings and homes
  • Online shopping instead of 'going out'
  • Smaller houses with more people per house
  • Residents installing solar cells
  • Better street lighting
  • Higher prices for electricity encourage conservation
  • The Global Financial Crisis - energy use dipped globally for the first time in 30 years after 2008
I think it is better to be proactive and in control of our own energy use. We can choose to power down now, or wait and be forced to later.

November 2, 2012

Amish Get Last LOL

There is nothing funny about millions of people losing grid power, but when I saw the Amish meme going around since Sandy hit, I had a bit of a chuckle. Those Amish are obviously on to something.

Amish members live simple lives and tend to be wary of modern day conveniences. They live by the rules of the church, (outlined in the Ordnung, which means 'order'), which regulate day to day living. Among other things, the Ordnung includes prohibitions on the use of things like cars, telephones, and grid electricity.

There are restrictions against grid electricity because the Amish wish to be disconnected from the greater society and modern values that are inconsistent with their teachings. Connecting to the grid would allow worldly influences to enter their homes, and could spark a competition for what they call 'status goods'.

Trying to think like the Amish, I came up with a possible scenario:

Grid power = TV/radio/computer = exposure to advertising = manufactured desire for goods and the status they confer = competition = discordance in the community.

This is certainly the scene played out endlessly in the consumer world by which the Amish are surrounded. Unlike the outside world, I doubt that Amish kids beat each other up in order to steal trendy sneakers, or ball caps, or coats, or ipods, or any other status item.

The Amish aren't against electricity however, and do make their own moderate amounts of power using generators, solar panels, and other technologies that allow them to be self-sufficient. It is enough power to do certain limited things, but not enough to be used indiscriminately and wastefully.

The Amish are not afraid of manual labour, and consider it to be character building. Therefore, labour saving devices hold little appeal for them, although you might find a washing machine hooked up to a generator in some communities. These simple living folks may seem backward, but they aren't stupid (not that it is stupid to wash clothes by hand, it is just really difficult, especially if you have 7 kids).

The Amish are indeed on to something, and that is - use electricity (and modern conveniences) selectively, and only if they are powered by self-generated electricity. Living more simply allows them to use less power, be energy self-sufficient, and enjoy the benefits of good old manual labour. Green on green on green, Amish style.

The Amish Action Plan
  1. Take a page from the Ordnung regarding electricity use.
  2. Read it by candle light.
  3. Get rid of most of your power hungry appliances and electronics. 
  4. Set up your solar panels/wind generator and say goodbye to the power grid.
  5. Be gentle on the earth, live well, and be prepared for the next extreme weather event.