Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our Energy Plan: Just Add Umph

Here is a list of our family's efforts to use less of the fossil fuel(s): (1) We are still without a dryer since it broke three or so months ago... the "solar dryer" (aka clothesline) is working fine even with six people in our house. I usually wash one load in the evening, hang it out in the morning, take it down in the evening. (2) We try to ride our bikes when we go downtown, especially if it's just for fun. (3) Eating more local food. We go to market (on bikes if we can swing it) and get as much as we can from local farmers. We get eggs, tomatoes, greens, mushrooms, trout, and goat cheese. (4) Laird is driving a funkydoodle eco-modded 1998 Suzuki Metro and getting 48 miles to the gallon. This is when he doesn't need his truck, which gets about 16 mpg. Our family van gets about 25 mpg. (5) Laird is telecommuting. I telecommuted today after running around in my van doing errands.... one of which was recycling!!! (6) Recycling saves energy and so does composting. Laird made a compost bin for me out of a big blue barrel he found at the Port Authority and about $25 worth of supplies. The going rate on the kind of bin he made is $150 plus shipping. The fact that we didn't have to have it shipped here saved energy, too. It's amazing how much less garbage we make because we are throwing all our food waste into a bin. That saves the energy it takes to truck that garbage to a landfill and to maintain the landfill. (7) I yell at Laird whenever he doesn't take the reusable bags along to the grocery store. Not really, but I do remind him that we have the technology to keep petro-plastic out of our house and out of the landfill. (8) We retro-fitted the house for night-time whole house ventilation in place of air conditioning. We also insulated our attic to save lots of energy. (9) Instead of moving to a bigger house, we stayed here in our little bungalow. Mostly, that was a financial decision, but part of it was the amount of energy it would take to heat a big house. The hardest part of staying in our house is having such a tiny kitchen, so we plan to expand it, and when we do, we'll get get the most energy efficient appliances for it. (10) Laird installed a high efficiency wood stove insert into our fireplace. This allows us to use wood we find lying around on roadsides and buy from folks who are harvesting dead wood from the forest to heat the house and save on fossil fuels. It also allows us to heat the house when the electricity goes out... which may be happening more often in the future as the grid gets more and more congested. (11) We switched to CFLs long ago. I was blessed with a dad who habitually turned off everything not in use, so this is another thing I keep reminding people in our house... turn off the lights! (12) We hand wash our dishes, though I'm not sure this actually saves energy or water. Anybody have any conclusive evidence either way? We need to know before we expand the kitchen. The others in this house are lobbying hard for a dishwasher, and I just can't wrap my mind around having a noisy machine doing work that is just not that hard. (13) And horrors, we only have one TV, and it is not HUGE. (14) We haven't mowed our yard yet this summer. Well, maybe once. I can't remember. We are slowly replacing grass with plants like berry bushes and fruit trees. And the dog yard is actually more pleasant with the weed jungle.

As you can see, my Home Energy Plan truly depends on my incredible husband, who knows how to build and fix EVERYthing. (Plus, he adores me, and that saves LOTS of energy.) Thing is, it took no small amount of money to do some of these things. And it does take our own time and energy to do all of these things that decrease our family's dependence on fossil fuels and dirty power plants and drill baby drill. Living in a small house forces us to "live with people" more than living in a big house. The flip side of that is it forces us to live with people!!! Yes, we actually need to solve more conflicts and use our words and share and tolerate more than if we had a big house. But, that leads to real closeness, and some really great skills for our growing kids. The thing about drying our clothes on the line... it takes time and extra planning to depend on the sun. The flip side of that is 15 minutes of time outside in the morning hearing the birds sing. It takes a little extra umph to get on the bike rather than hop in the car. The flip side of that is Fun and Moving the Body and less time sitting in the machine in traffic.

What it takes to conserve energy in my personal life: commitment to all the little steps. That's all.

Our next energy saving goal is: a Vespa for me to ride to work!!!! No, not really. But yes, electric transportation... scooter and car. That's our biggest use of energy, so why not have it be coal-powered instead of petroleum-powered??? Seriously, it is still a smaller carbon footprint. And cheaper. Sometimes I forget how much we do to conserve energy, and the main reason I forget is because I spend SO MUCH TIME sitting in the big machine in traffic, thinking of the exhaust and the drilling that happens just because I am in that machine. It's gotta be the biggest part of our energy and waste footprints. But making changes there is hampered by this town's (and this nation's) energy and transportation infrastructure. Which leads me to looking at what I can do about THAT.

I did call my Senators about Clean Energy and asked them to cap carbon emissions. I need to do more of this communicating with our leaders. It occurred to me the other night after watching Jon Stewart show the video clips of the last eight presidents all saying the same old thing about clean energy future... how depressing was that?!... anyway it occurred to me that what we need is for the American PEOPLE to change our ways. There is no way one person (the President), or even 595 people, can make the changes necessary. It is up to all of us. So, what's YOUR FAMILY'S PLAN for a clean energy future? What's your next step to using less? What's your next step to inspiring and empowering others to use less?

Image from Union of Concerned Scientists.