Saturday, June 16, 2007

Riot for Austerity: 90% Reduction Challenge Baselines

I've been trying to reduce our expenses over the last year or so, and being frugal is also usually good for the environment. My focus now is on more of an environmental bent, but saving money will be good, too. For those of you who don’t know, it has been recommended that we reduce our personal carbon emissions to 10% of the current US averages to avoid the worst effects of global warming. That means a 90% reduction in what we use in order to ensure that future generations have a decent planet on which to live. A 90% reduction may sound extreme, but it is necessary, and any amount that we can reduce now will have a great effect on the future. I know I'll be learning a lot of new skills with this project, and I’m looking forward to it. If you want to look at the rules for this challenge and the US averages, go here: (The text below in italics was copied from that site.) There is also a Yahoo group set up for those of us participating in this challenge ( ) OK, now for our baselines:

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

The last 12 months we used about 500 gallons. I don't drive at all (I'm beyond quirky and on Mars), and my husband commutes to work. We are at 33% of the national average for a household of 3 for personal usage. However, my son gets bussed to preschool, and for the 2007-2008 school year, he will be responsible for approximately 33 gallons of fuel. He will be able to walk to school once he starts kindergarten in the fall of 2008.

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

The last 12 months we used 13,552 kwh, which puts us at 123.2% of the national average. We have an all-electric home and since we live in the desert we use our A/C a good 5 months of the year. Since last October, our usage has been declining compared to the previous year, with last month being the greatest reduction at 27.61%. Thank you clothesline! I am concentrating on getting our phantom use down and will be using my solar oven extensively this summer. We also installed ceiling fans in the main living areas since last summer, and have raised the thermostat to 85 during the day and 82 at night. That seems to be helping a great deal.

3. Heating and cooking energy. N/A we use electricity.

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.

I don't know how to calculate this, as I don't have a scale. We don't put out nearly as much as all of our neighbors. We can probably go 3 weeks without having either the recycling or garbage picked up, by can volume any way. We recycle all we can, and I try to reuse what can't be recycled if I can. I will be working on reducing packaging that comes into the house this year.

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.

We currently use 67 gallons/person/ day, so we are at 67% of the national average. I'll be working on reducing our time in the shower and try to get better at the mellow yellow rule, as well as getting my husband on board with that. I'll be irrigating my garden this year, so I really have no idea what that will do to my overall water usage.

6. Consumer goods. 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, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

I'd say we are at the average, and I really want to reduce this amount. We buy way too much crap.

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 100 miles to me. 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 *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, because 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 - conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… 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 everyone’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.

I really don't have any numbers on this. I want to buy local and organic, but it is difficult here. The real farmer's markets are shutting down for the summer, and when they are open, the closest one is probably over 20 miles away. We have a local grocery
chain that has "farmer's market" in their name, but a lot of their produce is imported from Mexico (which is almost in my "local" area). At the moment, I'm just trying to keep us fed, and try to buy only products that come from this country. Hopefully I can start
harvesting from my garden in late summer, and our diet will improve. I have found a ranch only 45 minutes away that has free-range beef, and a friend and I are planning on buying a quarter of beef this fall. We do have a local dairy and egg company, but I think all of their animals are commercially raised. (I just found out yesterday that a local dairy company is just breaking into the organic market. Yippee! Local AND organic!) I'm trying to reduce the amount of meat in our diet, but when we do have it, I would like to have it raised in an organic and humane way. I recently read "Omnivore's Dilemma" and it has really changed the way I look at our food supply. Scary.

I doubt that I will hit the 90% mark on anything, but I'm going to do the best I can with what I have and what I know. I think that's the best any of us can do. It doesn't have to be all or nothing and perfect; anything we do to reduce our impact is a blessing to us and
our planet. Good luck everybody!

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