Monday, January 16, 2017

The Quiet Riot!

I miss the good old days - pre-Facebook - when bloggers got together and moved the world.  We were always doing projects and challenging each other to do more, to live better, to be better stewards.

Crunchy Chicken challenged us to "Freeze your buns off" - which was a winter-long challenge to lower our heating bills, and, more importantly, reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was about that time that my family transitioned to using a woodstove as our sole heat source.  We didn't need to turn down our thermostat here at Chez Brown, because there's no thermostat on the woodstove.  When one is standing right next to the woodstove, depending on the type of wood we've put in it and some other stuff, the temperature ranges from the depths of Hell to summer in Hawaii.  The rest of the house is somewhere between summer in Maine and Antarctica.

We were challenged to eliminate plastic.  Many of us went through our homes and tossed out that old Tupperware our mothers hoarded like gold.  Nearly everything in my cabinets is either breakable or made of metal. 

I have amassed a huge collection of glass canning jars.  I have every size of canning jar available from the tiniest of jelly jars (perfect for bringing condiments, like salad dressing, for lunch) to gallon-sized jars.  I use the big ones for storing dried goods, like sugar, flour, and rice.  I also use them for fermenting - pickles, sauerkraut, Kombucha.  The half-gallon sized ones are great for making batches of sweet tea, smaller fermenting projects, getting raw milk, and storing dried goods.  The quarts fit perfectly in Deus Ex Machina's lunch box - filled with leftover soup.  I love the "salad in a jar" craze that I've seen around the Internet - and yes, it does work pretty nicely in a wide-mouth quart-sized jar.  We have a size of jar that's between a pint and a quart that is the perfect size for a to-go cup.  I have some lids that I've drilled holes in to fit a reusable straw.  Pints are great for juice glasses.  And did you know that the mason jars are measuring cups?  A quart jar is four cups.  A pint is two cups.  There are lines on all of the jars for measuring in milliliters, ounces and cups.  Why clutter one's kitchen with extra (usually plastic) measuring cups when canning jars do just as well? 

And, of course, nothing beats canning jars for storing food.  I have canning jars all over my kitchen.

Back in those days, we were challenged to eat local, and I joined the Dark Days of Winter eat local challenge, where once a week, during Maine's long winters, I had to prepare a meal comprised entirely of food I had sourced locally (we were allowed to exclude certain food items, like oils or sweeteners, if we chose).  My family was featured in a newspaper article for our all local Thanksgiving Dinner.  Eventually, eating local was just the way we ate. 

In the beginning of the eat local challenges, it really was a challenge to find local foods, but eventually, they heard us.  The big chain grocery store, which is, now, owned by an international conglomerate (but used to be locally owned), has a special sign throughout their store to show shoppers the products that are "Close to Home."  There are a lot of them - potato chips from Fox Family Farms; Buckwheat flour and Ployes from the Bouchard family in Fort Kent;  Maine Root and Eli's sodas (both made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup); lots of seasonal produce; cheese from Pineland; butter from Kate's.  There was even a cleaning supplies manufacturer selling her stuff at Hannaford for a while. 

I know it was a direct response to people like me, people who wanted local foods.

Which proves what Margaret Mead so famously said, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

WE changed the world, in a very small, very profound way.  We changed the way people eat, by forcing a HUGE chain store to source more local foods - AND to let us know which foods were local. 

I believe WE can do more. 

My friend and fellow blogger, Jo, is restarting her own Riot For Austerity

By way of explanation, the riot For Austerity was a project that was conceived by two bloggers, Miranda Edel and Sharon Astyk.  Back in those days, we were still hearing about global warming, or later more accurately dubbed, "climate change."  Scientists knew that we were very close to the point at which humans could no longer reverse what was happening, and if we hoped to change the trend, we needed to ACT NOW! 

In response to those reports, Sharon and Miranda (and thousands of their followers) implemented this Riot for Austerity, the goal being to reduce one's foot print to 10% of what is normal for our Western world.  That is, if the average American uses 900 kWh per month of electricity, our goal would be to reduce our usage to 100 kWh of electricity per month.  I have mine down to a consistent 400 kWh/month.  We never, really, got it down much further.

It's worthwhile to note, though, that, as a country, the US has actually reduced its own usage over the past decade.  Back when I first joined the Riot, the average American was using 1200 kWh per month (which made my 400 kWh monthly usage look a lot more impressive :)).

According to this graph, we've also reduced the number of miles we travel as a nation. 

So, maybe, the Rioters helped effect positive change, just like the locavores did.

It's not enough, though.  Climate change is full upon us now.  I saw a headline recently that said every state in the continental US (except Florida) currently has snow on the ground.  I know that there are a lot of states with widely varying topographies.  Hawaii, for instance, is usually considered warm and tropical, but they regularly have snowfall on their mountain peaks.  New Mexico, also considered very warm, has areas where snowfall is a normal winter event.  But most of Texas is pretty flat (I lived in the Central Texas military town of Killeen).  My friend still lives in the Houston area.  She's been talking about the cold and snow.  They've been plagued with nutty weather over the past few years. 

Changes in weather patterns (more rain where it was mostly dry, too dry in normally wet areas); bigger, more bad-ass storms; coastal flooding; extremes in temperatures - these are all things that the scientists were warning us about a decade ago, when Sharon and Miranda conceived of this project.  If they had been successful in getting the rest of the world, instead of just a few thousand of us, to join, who knows where we'd be.

Perhaps the iconic marsh-level Italian restaurant might not be trying to sell their restaurant.  Maybe it's because they've been in business for three decades and the owners want to retire now.  Maybe it's because the owners have sickened of the too frequent flooding, and they're looking at a future that will include the annual flood-forced loss of business so that they can clean up the saturated first floor after the big spring storm surges.  I've lived here for twenty years, and I've been watching that marsh get higher every high tide.  I imagine that those restaurant owners have also been seeing the encroaching waters.

It's too late, from most of what we know, to change the climate disruption.  It's not too late to figure out how we're going to live in this new world.

Learning to live on 90% less (or even some percentage in between - like my 33% of average for electricity usage), isn't a bad idea.

As part of my "getting myself back on track", I'm going to be looking at my numbers and seeing where I can further reduce.  At very least, I want to live consciously, again, and not just mechanically going through my days.  So, if it's dinner time, and we want cheese on our mac, but we're out of cheese, we'll do something else.  Driving twelve miles (round trip) just to go to the store for a hunk of cheese is not an option. 

There's more though.  One neat, little perk about lowering our carbon footprint that the rabid Rioters don't, necessarily, mention (not because they don't know or don't care, but because their focus is elsewhere).  Using less = spending less.  Right?  I use less electricity, and so I have a lower electric bill.  I drive less, and so my car-related bills are less (fewer repairs, less spent on gasoline).  I buy fewer items at the store (the "consumer goods" category of the Riot), and so I save a lot of money. 

For the frugal-minded, living more lightly on the earth means saving a lot of cash.  The less we spend, the less we need to earn, which means the less we need to work, which means the more time we have to do other stuff - like garden, knit/sew, and cook, which leads to a less stressful life and healthier life habits, which means fewer doctor visits and less need for medication, which means spending less money.

See where we're going here?

It's a complete win/win, and back when I was actively practicing the lower-impact life, I was happier.

So, let's get back to it.  Let's riot!  Who's in?


  1. I've been 'in' for quite a while. There's always more to do however. I love Sharon Astyk's books. I have two that I refer to all the time. Cheers, SJ in Vancouver BC

    1. I have several of Sharon's books, too. I'd love to be able to convince her to come back to the fold and start blogging and writing again. :)

    2. My high schooler recently read Independence Days as assigned reading. Our state requires occupational education as one of the 11 homeschool subjects we must teach, so that's what it fell under "officially", but I'd say it covers so many other things! I'd love to see Sharon blogging more frequently again.!

    3. We should tell her we want her back at Casaubon's Book! That's where she was best.

  2. Great ideas! I forgot about the challenge this winter and when I remembered it was a bit late. Our footprint is lower than most, but there's always room for improvement. I will check that out, thanks, Nancy

    1. Ours is lower than most, too, but I'm sure there are places where we're not really living consciously, and my goal is, not so much to try to lower our footprint, but to be more aware of what we're doing - and why.

  3. I too have missed all that! Yes Facebook has kinda taken the wind out of the blooper sails. But now I can influence so many more!
    Have kinda has a rekindling of all you have mentioned here. I lost my way a bit. So much was happening in our lives that I fell into the cheap easy throwaway life. Which really isn't cheap and in the end makes life so much harder for everyone xx

  4. I checked with my eletrical hubby and he said we use about 500 Kwh a month, including AC in the summer. Good to know!

    1. Woot! Good going! We don't have AC and our woodstove doesn't use electricity. Most of our electricity usage is cooking and refrigeration (I think). Still working on getting those things down. It's a process, for sure ;).

  5. Oh, goody, this will be so much more fun with a community of kindred-spirits. I love your Quiet Riot title.. I am just beginning to realise how very much of a big task this is going to be. But as I said in my post - it's a no lose situation - however much we reduce consumption towards the goal of 90% it's going to be a good change..

  6. I love this idea....but our living circumstances have changed. We moved in with my father-in-law four years ago, and there are 4 other adults here and I am not paying the utilities. I am also the only one who seems concerned with our usage or expenses. Any idea how to control heating/electricity/water etc. in a house that I don't own? Or should I simply focus on groceries and other spending I do?

    1. That's a tough one, Kate. When I first started trying to make changes, I got some push-back from my family - especially Deus Ex Machina (believe it or not). He was SO not on board. But then, I started just doing little things, things I could control, and when he noticed that we were, really and truly, saving money, and that it didn't take anything away from our wonderful lives, he came 'round.

      That said, if your roommates are truly not on board and really don't care, the best you can do is control what YOU do. You can't change other people. My only advice is what Ghandi said "Be the change." They'll either follow suit or they won't. It won't take anything away from you to just quietly do your thing.

  7. I'm in! :)
    I have been looking up some numbers for here. The average for the Netherlands is 258 kWh per month, but there are also numbers available for specific situations (like 2-persons house - 254 kWh and 4-persons house - 354 kWh). Our usage (2 persons) is 167 kWh a month and we have solar panels which bring in more than we use, so we get paid a little for that.
    But since most houses here heat with natural gas and for a lot of us our water is heated with it, and we cook on it as well, this should be mentioned too. The average is 108 cubic metres per month, varying from 98 m3 for a town house to 171 m3 for a detached house. We heat with wood as well as natural gas, and we use it for our water and cooking, our usage is 78 m3 per month.
    According to (respectable) website we are part of the 10% with the lowest energy usage in the Netherlands (in our specific situation, specifically a detached house).
    I have several of Sharon's books as well and have read them numerous times.
    Frank (my husband) and I have been talking a lot about these things lately. We have always been conscious of our footprint, but we want to step it up (or down actually ;) ).
    Looking at all areas, shopping, travelling, energy use, etc.
    Btw, I love that you are back to blogging regularly, I've missed it. I agree that this is so much more than fb.