Let’s join a (non-violent) riot!

I have really been an emotional roller coaster these last two weeks.  Our new president frightens me so much and I have been alternating between weeping in depression and fear, and getting angry and taking back my power (and therefore being productive around the house).  My Facebook feed has turned into a political forum.  Gone are the LOLcats and kid pictures.  Everything is about our president and his hateful, planet-destroying behaviors.  In response I’ve decided to become a revolutionary and (re-)join a riot.

The current situation

After reading a FB post written by Sharon Astyk, (of Casaubon’s Book) I have made a rule in my house that no one may speak his name.  His title as President of the United States is far more important than his name, and using his name helps to inflate his sense of self-importance.  Therefore, you will not find him referred to by name on this blog anymore.  He is our president, whether we like it or not) and he needs to start living up to that responsibility.  He is supposed to guide us as we shape our future, but the future he is shaping is not one in which the human species (and least of all Americans) can survive.

Humans cannot live on a hot planet, and yet, that is straight where we are headed.  I assume that if you are of a mind to read my blog, you accept climate change as fact, so I won’t explain it here.  By putting a straight jacket on the EPA, DHHS, Department of the Interior, USDA, and Dept of Transportation, and by supporting DAPL, this administration has proven that they care more about profit than people or the planet.  At some point, maybe, they will realize that without people there can be no profit.

I first learned the concept of Peak Oil several years ago, and it greatly concerned me.  I worried and fretted about it for a couple of years.  I had little support at home for it (tolerance, yes, but not support) and so eventually radical action fell down the priority list.  I have always striven to have a small footprint on the Earth, but now it is time to kick it up a notch, as they say.

The Riot for Austerity

If the human race is going to survive for more than three more generations, we need to step up and take matters into our own hands.  If the science-related branches of the US government are crippled in their ability to do their jobs, let’s make it as easy as possible for them.  We need to take responsibility for the water supply and for reducing carbon emissions.  Going forward, we might be blind, with no ability to track how we are doing, but we have a good snapshot of where we are now and what direction we are heading, and therefore what we need to do.

So let’s join a riot!  The Riot for Austerity, that is.  The goal of the Riot is to reduce our environmental impact to 10% of the current North American average.  Yes — TO 10%, not BY 10%.  It is a challenge.  I don’t want to say it will be easy, it won’t be.  It is simple, though.  Very straightforward.  Here are the rules.

Category: Gasoline

According to the rules, we are permitted up to 50 gallons per person per year.  We have 6 people in our house, so that gives us 300 gallons per year.  This one will be hard for us because we live in a rural area.  For purely economic reasons, we have always been mindful of our gas consumption, but now it is time to track it a little more carefully.

My husband’s job is a 41-mile round trip.  His car averages about 25 mpg, so that means that in the winter he is using 5-6.5 gallons per week (3-4 days), and in the summer it is almost 10 gallons per week (5-6 days).  Over a year, that is approximately …   Hmm… maybe it would be more accurate to just see how much money we have spent on gas in the last year and calculate that.  Okay.  We spent $3031.70.  This past year around here, gas has probably averaged $2.25/gallon, so that is around 1350 gallons of gas.  Wow, we are nowhere near the 10% number, but we are around 45%.  Not bad!  And that included driving to Maryland in the truck (10-15 mpg) to visit my sister for our first vacation in nearly twenty years.

Our gas consumption comes primarily from my husband’s work commute.  We take the kids about 14 miles round trip to Scouts twice a month.  My neighbor and I take turns taking our boys to Cub Scouts and picking them up again (two round trips of 14 miles each).  So each month, she and I each drive 28 miles for it.  Likewise, my daughter and her best friend also go to Girl Scouts together.  I take them in every time, and her friend’s dad picks them up on his way home from work.  Same mileage totals. Finally, Little A does Daisy Scouts, but we have to stay with her for the meeting, so even though there is no carpooling, the mileage remains the same since it is only one round trip twice a month instead of two round trips once a month.  I also drive L to the high school each morning so she doesn’t have to ride the bus with the big, scary high schoolers.  It is a 7-mile round trip every school day.  She comes home on the middle school bus in the afternoons.

My personal gas consumption is much more expensive.  My truck only gets about 12 mpg, so I only go out during the day when I have to.  Usually this is just a once a week grocery shopping trip into town, 18 miles away.  I try to save up all my in-town errands for that one day so I only have to make the trip once.  Typically, I end up driving about 46 miles if I don’t have other errands in town.  This gets our milk from the farm, down into town for the shopping, then stopping at the spring on the way home for drinking water.

As a family we also go to church each Sunday, though we can take the car for that since only E and A attend with us regularly.  So aside from the rare doctor appointments, or other such appointments, that is our regular gas consumption.  Oh!  In the fall and spring, E plays soccer and baseball locally and has to be driven to his games once a week (twice weekly games, half are at home – we walk).  The fields are all 5 to 16 miles away, the vast majority being 10 or less.  Our transfer station/recycling center is just a touch under 1 mile away, and with the truck we only have to make that trip about once a month.

With our current usage already at 45%, I am comfortable with that starting point.  I think the only we can make a significant impact would be if my husband found a way to work from home instead of having to commute.  Alas, that would mean a complete career change since factories don’t generally do telecommuting.  If I were to forgo my grocery shopping, that would save on gas, but then that would drastically affect the food category, which we will get to later.

Category: Electricity

A few months ago we switched to 100% renewable energy.  It costs us more, but we felt that it was worth the extra money to have clean energy.  Put your money where your mouth is, as they say.  According to Riot numbers, we would be entitled to 90 kWh per month, for an average household of 2.6 people.  I’m going to give us a little leeway and double it, even though we have triple the people, because some of the energy is shared.  Lights cost the same whether there are 2 people or 20 people in the room, but each extra bedroom needs their own.  So I will allot us 180 kWh per month.  Since all of our electricity is a combination of wind and hydro, we can multiply that number by 4 for the renewable benefit.  That gives us 720 kWh/month.

electricity usage graph

The Feb, Mar, and Apr bars can be ignored because they are purely fabricated by the electric company. They were reading a broken meter for two years until June on this chart.  We were charged for no electricity until then.

We have some work to do here.  Our average bill over the last 6 months (we don’t have a year’s worth of data, so I started with the first full month of accurate data) is 1094 kWh.  So our raw numbers are even higher than the average household.  This looks like it might be a good place to start.  Winter numbers are higher than summer, and 1/3 of the bills I just averaged were from summer, when we don’t need lights on as much, and when we don’t need to run the furnace.  Both are reasons that winter usage is higher.  I also ran the dryer all summer, too, because the clothesline is currently in the chicken pen and we had an aggressive rooster this past summer.  I was tired of fending him off while I hung up laundry.

Category: Heating and cooking energy

Since we have an electric cookstove (I lust after a gas one), its energy is included above, so this category is just our heating energy.  We have oil as our only heating option, though we have a goal to install a woodstove.  Our house is a 2600 sq ft Victorian house built in 1850, and it is very drafty.  The good part of that is that we don’t need to worry about mold.  The bad part is it is very difficult to heat.  Apparently the average US usage of oil is 750 gallons per household per year.  I assume that is the average for the 8% who actually use oil, and not watered down by the 92% who don’t.

I believe our usage the last two years that we have been in this house has been 900ish gallons and 1250 gallons.  We are nowhere near the goal of 10% here, and it looks like rather we are at 150% instead. We keep our daytime temperature set at 65, and a nighttime temperature of 60.  On really cold days when the wind is blowing, the furnace really struggles to keep it above 55.  We lose a lot of heat through the attic because whoever engineered the heating system here thought it would be a good idea to put the forced hot air ducts up through the attic and then blow down into the second floor rooms instead of running them up the walls of the first floor and up through the floors of the second floor rooms.  The attic is not insulated.

I am really looking forward to installing a woodstove.  I believe we will cut down on our fuel and keep the house more comfortable at the same time.    It will allow us to heat most the rooms we spend most of our time in, with the rooms farther away being the rooms that are okay to be cooler.  Our current situation is closer to the opposite of that.

Category: Garbage

Before looking at any numbers here, I think we probably do pretty well here.  The rules allow .45 pounds of garbage per person per day.  That means 2.7 pounds per day for our family.  That seems like a lot to me, but I don’t weigh our trash either.  There is no further clarification on what is included, so I am going to assume that recycling and composting don’t count.  I believe the goal of this category is to reduce the amount of waste put in landfills or incinerated.  Composting never leaves our property so I will leave that out.

We generate about 1 to 2 bags of trash per week.  Paper recycling is our largest waste stream, I believe.  Four kids bring home a lot of school papers and homework.  All food scraps go to one of three places — the dog bowl, the chicken coop, or the compost pile.  This has kept our trash from stinking (it also helps to rinse out non-recyclable trash, like bottle caps and such) and reduced our trash category.  According to the major recycling center around here, it looks like the typical 33-gallon trash bag weighs about 20 pounds.  They charge $0.10/pound, or $2/bag under 33 gallons.  Our trash bags are 13 gallons.  The full trash bag I just weighed was 7 pounds.  It took six of us nine days to fill it.  In that same time frame, we generated 8 pounds of paper recycling, and 3 pounds of plastic and metal recycling.  Glass is trickier because we forgot to empty it on our last trip to the dump.  I have approximately 10 pounds of glass waiting to go, but it has been building up for a few weeks.  I will count 1/3 of it as being from this week, though that is probably high.  So for a nine-day period, we have about 18 pounds of waste. That is 2 pounds per day out of a permissible 2.7.

I must be really out of touch.  I double checked and the household numbers are accurate.  If we lived at the average, we would be generating (let’s see 4.5 pounds x 6 people x 7 days) 189 pounds of trash per week.  That is more than I weigh.  Seriously?  Damn!  We are nowhere near that.  Not by a long shot.

Category: Water

From the rules: “The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.”  That allows me 60 gallons of water per day total.

I honestly have no idea how much water we use.  We have a drilled well and a septic tank, so we have no meters.  We live in a wetter part of the country (40-45″ of rain or equivalent per year), so water usage really hasn’t been on our radar.  We run the dishwasher twice a day, and I handwash the cast iron and wooden things, and the things that are too small to put in the dishwasher.  We probably average about 2 loads of laundry per day, but I binge wash, so it is hard for me to tell exactly.  I don’t know how much water our appliances use.  My husband showers every work day because he has a very physically active job, but the rest of us shower about once or twice a week.  We probably drink two to three gallons of water a day, either straight or as coffee/tea/cocoa.  I probably average about half a gallon a day in cooking, primarily in making broth.

It looks like the average dishwasher uses 6 gallons of water per load.  That works out to 12 gallons per day there.  I can’t find data on my washing machine, but I see that old machines use 40 gallons, newer machines use 27, and some energy star ones use only 14.  My machine is only a few years old, and it says it is an energy star, but I will play it safe and count it as 27 gallons per wash.  Two loads per day on average equals 54 gallons of water.  This is a lot of calculations and things to remember, so this calculator just said that they estimate we use 257 gallons per day for the six of us.  That puts us at 40-45% of the average.  Not bad, but we can definitely do better.

One way we can reduce our water usage is to move our water heater.  Our house used to be divided into two apartments, whose kitchens were at opposite ends of the building.  The water heater was located in the basement half way down the house, so both kitchens had to wait an equal amount of time for it.  One of our goals is to move the water heater so it is under the kitchen to drastically reduce travel time.  The upstairs kitchen is now a bedroom, and the upstairs half bathroom really doesn’t need hot water at all.  We can also fix the tiny leak in the toilet that I hear every once in a while.  The calculator assigned us the average 40 gallons a day in leaks.

Category: Consumer goods

Apparently, the average American spends $10k per year per household on consumer goods, after paying bills and buying gas and groceries.  The Riot goal here is $1000 per year per household.  I know we are over that, but let me check my accounting software for last year’s numbers.  All tallied up, the total is $6769.71 in potential consumer goods.  The categories I counted were:

  • Animal equipment
  • Animal supplies
  • Discretionary (could have been anything from a computer part to brewing ingredients to ice cream with the kids)
  • Books
  • Cleaning/Hygiene
  • Clothes
  • Computer
  • Entertainment (just the tangible parts)
  • Gifts
  • Health/Fitness
  • Hobbies
  • Home goods
  • Miscellaneous
  • Phone (again, only the tangible, not the service)
  • Supplies

This list might include things that don’t belong.  I just looked at my category totals for most things, but I think it is fairly representative.  I did not include car repairs.  That would have raised it another $4600+ and put us a little above the current average.  The biggest culprits were Home goods, Gifts (which included Christmas), and Clothes.  Those three accounted for 53% of the total.  Home goods was particularly high this year because we got ourselves a new bed.  My first new bed that I can ever remember.  Previously we were sleeping on a decrepit mattress on the floor so we spent some of our tax refund on a sale at the furniture store.  We got a brand new queen size bed with a frame, two pillows and a mattress protector delivered for about $850.   We also spent a chunk of change on smart phones for hubby, two of our teenagers, and me, and I believe they were worth every penny in increased productivity (for me and hubby) and improved communication for the girls.  That was a total of (I believe) $685.67 for four androids paid in full up front.

So that puts us about 70% of the Average American household of 2.6 people.  Some of that (not a lot) was second hand or bought at a donation store, so it would only count as 0-10% of its cost towards the allotment.  I think we are doing well overall here, but we still have room for improvement.

Category: Food

Before taking a look at this one, I think we do well here, too.  Eating a WAPF diet really cuts down on the carbon footprint of our diet.  So what do the rules say? This category has a different metric.  The food that is better for us and for the environment tends to cost more money to purchase, so using money spent doesn’t work.  Instead food source and quality are prioritized.  At least 70% of your diet should be local/organic.  Up to 25% can be dry/bulk goods that are not local but grown and packaged in a sustainable manner.  The remaining 5% or less is conventionally grown, out of season produce or processed foods.

I am very fortunate to live in a food oasis, so it is easy for me to find (if not afford) local organic food.  I have written about our groceries in depth before, so if you want more specific details, here is a good place to start.  I prioritize my organic purchases as meats first, then “dirty dozen” produce, then processed dairy.  I do tend to buy out of season produce, though.  This has been a struggle I have dealt with for a long time as I recently came to realize that I really don’t like gardening.  That means I have to buy all my produce anyway.  Yes, it is January, but why shouldn’t I have broccoli and peppers?  Those are vegetable my kids actually eat.  Better the broccoli they will eat than the parsnips they won’t.  I have often lamented to my dear, patient husband that I need to learn to cook in season better.

I get the best prices on good food in town.  There is a supermarket just 5 miles away, but their organic selection is atrocious.  I have a much better selection in town, and I believe it is worth the extra mileage to buy local and organic foods.

Takeaways

This has been an eye-opening analysis.  I think we are doing better than I thought we were.  I have some action steps I can take and we can get down to rioting.  Fix the leaky toilet, move the water heater, and stop buying out of season produce.  We have been wanting to get a more efficient car for my use, but the money we had set aside for it needs to go into rebuilding the transmission in the truck.  We still need the truck’s people/stuff hauling capacity sometimes.

How about you? Of course you don’t have to make such radical changes all at once, or even at all.  Every single bit of progress towards these goals helps.  A goal is simply that, a goal.  It gives you something to aim for.  Progress, not perfection is what is most important.  If 10% is too daunting for you, how about 50%?  Once you get there, then you can decide if you want to go further.  But doing nothing will kill us all.  Not tomorrow, not next week, but I know I want to have a world that can still support another seven generations after me.  Are you with me?

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