The Fox is in the Hen House …

Puget Sound Energy is in the house.

Puget Sound Energy is in the house.

… and, being offered tea.

Fox: [in a velvety baritone voice] “I’m just here to help you keep the eggs warm. You know if the eggs aren’t warm they might DIE.

Hens: [clucking to each other] “You know that nice fox is right, if the eggs aren’t warm they’ll DIE.” [Completely forgetting that they can keep the eggs warm.]

Fox: “Move over and let my big, warm, comforting, bushy tail keep those eggs warm for you.”

Hens: [cluck approval] “We do have a lot of other things we want to do.” [Hens move off of eggs and run out to get tea.]

This is what I’m witnessing firsthand at the City of Bainbridge Island. Only instead of a fox we have Puget Sound Energy (PSE) representatives and instead of hens we have council members who are slowly getting lulled into giving up their power and taking comfort in the big, cozy, comforting, corporation. They’ll take care of us. They’re just here to help. Lie back, close your eyes….

Ever since we started our initiative, Island Power, in January of 2015, PSE has been completely enmeshed in our political process. PSE reps are a constant presence at:

  • council,
  • planning commission
  • utility advisory committee, and, even,
  • comp plan meetings, to name a few.

Their presence is subtly intimidating – it’s hard to speak freely with PSE reps actually sitting at the table as they were during the last planning commission meeting I attended. They represent a large corporation and corporate interests. Why are they in meetings as if they were islanders? Because they are protecting their interests – not ours.

Their GOAL is to prevent our measure from EVER getting on the ballot. [They tell the council to forgo putting it on the ballot so they won't have to suffer from a no vote. Wow! This logic is crazy good. "We're just trying to save you from your own mistakes." And, the council is starting to listen.]

We need to ask ourselves – who has our best interests at heart? Fellow Bainbridge Islanders who have NOTHING to gain from this going forward other than almost 100% carbon-free electricity coursing through our grid and using our leverage as ratepayers to stop buying coal-generated electricity or a large corporation that stands to lose more than $20 million dollars annually, and which will continue to use coal-generated electricity?

It is some magic trick that they are diverting everyone’s attention to the one-time cost of buying out the current system instead of the millions of dollar$ PSE stands to lose every year if we run our own electric utility. That’s what really matters to them. In Jefferson County about $33 million dollars left the county every year to pay PSE for power, now almost a third of that stays in the county in new jobs. We have a lot to gain by running our own electric utility: greener power, local control of our energy sources and community incentives, new living-wage jobs, and reliable power.

Climate Change is Still Happening
Carbon emission from coal-generated electricity is one of the nation’s top contributors to climate change, which is acidifying the oceans, killing coral and its intricate ecosystems, and forage fish, a food chain foundation, warming waters and killing salmon (salmon fishing was just closed for the season in the NW), orcas depend on salmon – it’s called a life cycle for a reason. Climate change is impacting all life cycles. Plus, feedback loops on land and in the water are speeding up the process.

For all want-to-be activists out there: I have learned a lot. Before I take on any political campaign in the future, I’m going to build a financial and volunteer war chest. (PSE started advertising in local papers, and polling right after we had our first public meeting in May 2015.) Second, I’m going to hire a political consultant/company and poll people in the community to build my messaging based on the response to polling. Then meet with political officials with my polling information to convince them of my position as well as our initiative’s widespread support. [Note to my future self.]

Will the council be out-foxed by Puget Sound Energy? We’ll see.

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How do You Make an Ice Cube from the Sun?

solar van, solar applications, solar camping

Plover cranking out solar amps in northern Canadian Rockies in July. Photo credit: Neil Johannsen.

“Solar power, of course,” said Neil Johannsen,  retired Director of Alaska State Parks, answering his own question.

He asked me that question as I looked at his solar-powered van, Plover, named after a bird. I love that question. That is just the kind of question we should be asking ourselves about everything. How can we do things differently; think about energy differently?

When Neil looks at rooftops be it a car, boat or house, he sees the potential to capture and store energy. He even invented the solar dinghy. And, sold three of them. And, he’s found something that will squeeze just a little more power from your solar panels too, more on that in a bit.

As I sat in Neil’s patio garden, listening to how parking lots and roads could be used to capture solar energy as another way to get our culture off of coal-generated electricity, I saw a bit of magic. The garden water fountain was … solar powered by a tiny panel perched on a second-story railing. The garden shed’s light was … solar powered by something that is so thin and flexible it looks like fabric. Solar fabric. It makes you think, right? What if we had solar sleeves on our jackets to power our devices?

His small-scale solar innovations are constant. The solar panel on his van is so light that once the wing nuts that hold the aluminum frame onto the van are unscrewed, the panel can be placed in the sun while the van is parked in the shade. The panel powers electricity in the van. Neil can watch movies on his laptop and grab a cold beverage while camping without a loud generator spewing exhaust and noise into the wilderness. The solar panel stores enough energy in the battery while driving to power his laptop and refrigerator. Think of it – all your creature comforts powered by the sun.

The sun + panels to capture power + batteries to store power + converters to go from DC to AC power = electricity. That’s a basic equation for solar energy. Neil uses two six-volt golf cart batteries, joined plus to minus, to create one powerful 12-volt battery for his van. The solar panel is a Renogy 100W 12 volts light weight monocrystalline solar panel, but the magic happens with a solar charge controller. Neil uses Renogy 40 Amp Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) Solar Charge Controller. It matches the voltages between the solar panel and the battery resulting in up to 30% more efficient transfer of power, reducing the number of solar panels needed for any application.

Proof that living lighter on the planet doesn’t mean sacrifice – just a little innovation. So, whether you want to keep your devices charged while kayaking, or to heat your van while you’re out in the wilderness, think solar.

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Island Power Moves Forward

What Happened Tuesday October 6th at the City of Bainbridge Island Council Meeting…

Island Power at COBI

Seats emptied as people stood up to speak in support of public power. Ted Jones at the podium.

Bainbridge Island, WA — TEN amazing people stood up and spoke in support of public power including Phil Rockefeller! We crossed the first major hurtle and have shown adequate support for our initiative. The council did not give us a threshold number, but instead asked the City Manager Doug Schulze to create a list of possible items to study and resources needed to see if public power makes sense for Bainbridge, then, if it does, create an ordinance and put it on the ballot. Thanks to everyone who showed up for a late-night council meeting and for all those cheering us on via email and social media.

If you missed the meeting you can view all the speakers here (at about the 2hr mark the comments for public power begin): http://apps.bainbridgewa.gov/media/video/2015/SS_20151006.mp4

As Barry Peters’ succinctly noted:
“There is an opportunity for City Council members who see the importance of clean green power, resisting climate change and supporting a sustainable local economy, family wage jobs and democratic community control, to move the City’s feasibility analysis forward expeditiously so that a City ordinance is ready next year in time to give Bainbridge voters a chance to support this when they turn out massively in the presidential elections of November 2016.

Our friends on City Council who are visionaries in these respects can achieve a legacy by having this study move forward to a City ordinance that is approved by Bainbridge voters during their current term in office, in this 25th year of home rule for Bainbridge Island.”

Hot Off the Presses:
Recent article about our initiative by Inside Bainbridge: Island Power or PSE? Parties Weigh in Before Tonight’s Council Discussion

Mark Your Calendar:

  • Tuesday Oct 27th 7pm at the City of Bainbridge Island
    - Island Power to deliver over 1,000 signatures in support of public power to the council. Thank you to all of our exceptional signature gatherers: Ted Jones, Jaco ten Hove, Marie and David Spooner, Marci Burkel, David Mitchell, Tom Goodlin, Jennifer Sampson, Carrie West, Steve Johnson, Jane Lindley, Barry Peters, Randal Samstag, Janet Knox and Barb Trafton.
  • Tuesday Nov 3rd 7pm at the City of Bainbridge Island – During the council meeting Doug Schulze will outline his study and budget to discuss with the council.
Local Power is Better Power!

Cleaner. Locally controlled. Economically beneficial.

Let’s be the generation that takes the first step.

Island Power
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Population over 7 billion – don’t exhale!

Global CO2 continues to rise.

Global CO2 continues to rise

I’m sure everyone that follows Low Carbon Girl’s facebook page saw the Seattle PI article about  National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) report that our global CO2 levels have gone over 400 parts per million. NOAA’s widget (left) resides in this blog’s right-hand sidebar. I’ve watched the numbers quietly rise every month, but now they’re in red and they show no signs of slowing.

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times,” added Tans. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

Almost three years ago when I started this blog, CO2 levels were at 392.92. I made some observations that I’d like to correct and they point to the even greater importance that we look for alternative energy sources, conserve resources and consume less. Here goes:

CO2 Baseline

The idea that a person should be concerned about the parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere entered my consciousness four years ago when I read an article about NASA’s James Hansen with the unsavory message that our CO2 was ALREADY beyond safe limits. I figured a rocket scientist would know these things, so I started to worry about CO2 ppm but didn’t know what to do.

I’m pretty sure I read about it in the NYTimes or New Yorker and clipped the article for my Thoughts file, but the link above was one of the online versions I found, see who it’s written by? Bill McKibben! Mr. 350.org himself. And, it looks like, from his byline, that this was before he formed 350.org.

When the article was written, our atmospheric CO2 was 383 ppm. James Hansen’s position was that we need to get our CO2 levels back down to 350 ppm (it’s now at 392.92), kinda heading in the wrong direction.

What is a Human’s Baseline Annual CO2 Emission?
All of this got me thinking, if we’re oxygen breathers, CO2 emitters, what’s the CO2 cost of a human before we do anything at all (like jump in a car, run to the store and buy meat and dairy)? No one really wants to ask that question, right?

One source puts the number between 328.5 kg  and 206.23 kg a year. Most CO2 measurements are in tonnes, not the American ton. What’s the difference you may be asking (and why are we the last ones to use the metric system)? A ton is measurement used exclusively in the US and it is equal to 2,000 lbs. A tonne is equal to 1,000 kg. Here’s where my brain starts to hurt.

Just so you can check my math when I convert the numbers above:

  • there are .45359237 kilograms in a pound
  • 2,000 pounds are equal to 907.18474 kg
  • 1,000 kilograms are equal to 2,204.623 lbs.

We emit  between .33 and .21 tonnes a year or .36 and .23 tons a year. Clearly, just being human isn’t that big of a deal, it’s gotta be burning fossil fuels (like they’ve been saying) that is causing the majority of the problem. Whew!

World population 3:30pm East Coast time May 22nd 2015.

World population 3:30pm East Coast time May 22nd 2015.

I can’t believe I didn’t multiply the number of CO2 a year by the number of people. And, now there are over 7 billion people on the planet – wow!! You can watch numbers spin forward here. Anyway, I took a snapshot (left) and then multiplied the population number with the low end of the CO2 exhaled per person (.23 ton/yr), which equals over a billion and a half tons of CO2 (1,682,834,489.85). So, kind of a lot just for breathing.

As the population grows the need to conserve resources and consume less grows as well.

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Island Power – How to Cut Carbon Emissions Without a Lifestyle Overhaul

blue_sky_logoIf you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple years or have just been trying to reduce your carbon footprint, you know how hard it is to make meaningful lifestyle changes and still be part of modern society.

Or, maybe you’ve made great strides and have transitioned your family from a meat-heavy diet to one that is more plant-based; decided to stop visiting family living a plane-ride away. And, maybe, you have even given up your car for a bicycle and wear secondhand clothing that does double duty on your bike and in the office (easier on the West Coast than the East Coast). If so, then kudos to you and your family; most of us manage to recycle most of the time, and feel guilty the rest of the time.

Smart Energy
It wasn’t until I started thinking about buying an electric car that an easier path to a low-carbon lifestyle came into focus. After doing a little research I realized that driving an electric car isn’t that much better than some of its gas-powered counterparts unless its powered with renewable energy. The cost of setting up a solar array for my new electric car seemed excessive. What to do? What to do? Why not change the source of our electricity? How hard could that be?

Not that hard. In 2008 our neighbors in Jefferson County (Port Townsend) voted to give electric authority to their public utility district, Jefferson PUD.  Today, they have their own locally controlled, nonprofit power system, which is virtually carbon-free. They get their power from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). 89% of BPA’s power is hydroelectric which is nearly free of carbon emissions [download a PDF on their resource mix and carbon emissions ].

We could get our electric power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and in one fell swoop reduce the island’s carbon emissions. BPA has set aside a small amount of low cost tier one power for new nonprofit utilities. Of the 150+ megawatts of power currently available Bainbridge would need about 50 megawatts.

Local Economy
While Bainbridge Islanders’ first concern may not be job creation, it is interesting to note that Jefferson County was able to create 35 living-wage jobs when they created an electric utility. And, more importantly, now about 50% of the 33million dollars in ratepayer revenue stays in the county as compared to 2% previously. Could Bainbridge Island benefit from another revenue stream? Probably. Let’s keep more money on the island instead of sending it off island to a foreign-owned utility.

Island Voice
Currently, 49% of Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) electric power comes from carbon-emitting coal and natural gas. The coal-generated electricity comes from Montana’s Colstrip coalmine, which is an environmental hazard – it is one of the top ten emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States plus its ash ponds have polluted aquifers. “PSE is the largest owner of Colstrip, which consists of four separate coal-fired units.” As an investor-owned utility, Puget Sound Energy has a fiduciary responsibility to increase their net worth, and coal is a good financial investment.

Local nonprofits, such as Climate Action Bainbridge and the Washington chapter of Sierra Club have lobbied PSE to retire the Colstrip mine without being truly heard or impacting PSE’s operations.

“In early October, PSE customers, Coal-Free PSE actives, and a coalition of partners delivered 10,000 petitions to PSE in Olympia. Accompanying the petitions was a report card, in which PSE was given an ‘incomplete’ for not coming up with a plan to retire their coal plant.” – Sierra Club’s Cascade CREST newsletter winter 2014.

As a nonprofit island-owned utility, we would finally be able to voice our preferences, be heard and adapt quickly to new technologies. Imagine being able to add power to our grid from distributed sources that can recycle waste heat and energy. There are many exciting options available today which will reduce our negative impact on the planet without completely altering our lifestyles. Who’s in?

To find out more about Island Power go to our website: island-power.org and follow our FaceBook page BainbridgeIslandPower.

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How to Kick the Plastic Wrap Habit

plastic_wrapA couple of years ago, before I began to give the idea of zero waste any thought, I was in a meeting when someone at the end of the table announced, “I never use plastic wrap.” How could this be? How is it possible?

I had always used plastic wrap. It was a staple on my shopping list, and, when I lived at home, my mom’s shopping list. It turns ordinary bowls and plates into leftover containers. It’s magical. How did that person at the other end of the table go without? Was her food just sitting there exposed to refrigerator air, getting crusty? Did she use those plastic-shower-cap looking things to cover her bowls? I didn’t have a chance to ask before the meeting got underway.

Fast-forward to today and I unexpectedly have the answer: reusable containers. Obvious, right? Not exactly.

At first we bought containers, including a memorable set of nesting containers from Ikea with sizes ranging from useable to comical single-strawberry size. Eventually, we ended up with the unusable tiny containers and lids for all the others. Digging through the cabinet to find the right lid was time consuming, if not impossible, so we just used plastic wrap instead.

It wasn’t until I stopped throwing away/recycling containers and started using them to store leftovers that I realized:

  1. how many tubs of salsa we buy and jelly we eat,
  2. what a perfect size food containers are for leftovers,
  3. we didn’t lose the lids because each container’s lid is identifiable by color, material and shape,
  4. all of our bowls and pots are freed up to be used for their intended purpose, and most importantly,
  5. we would never have to use plastic wrap again.
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Zero Waste Bathroom Gap Update

Homemade toothpaste, mouthwash, face lotion

Re-purposed jelly jars are perfect for homemade personal care products. Note, bamboo toothbrush – mostly compost-able!!

Just a quick update on my bathroom commercial-product-replacement progress. You can find the before image in my last post.

First, I was loving baking soda instead of commercial toothpaste, it did a GREAT job of removing the coffee stains on my teeth, but then I was thinking it was doing perhaps too good of a job, so I’m switching to Trash is for Tossers’ toothpaste made of baking soda (naturally!) and coconut oil. Oh, my goodness! How have I overlooked coconut oil for so long?!? I love cooking with it, but had no idea how many commercial products it can replace with aplomb.

Second, I found a recipe for face lotion on Homemade Mommy (with coconut oil!) and essential oils that I’m using. I think in the future, I’m going to use aroma-free coconut oil instead. I was thinking coconut smell goes with everything – I love it – but it is a little icky with carrot, myrrh, frankincense and lemon. The recipe called for lavender essential oil, but I had to draw the line on somewhere on essential oil purchases.

And, finally, I found an easy mouthwash recipe on Organic Natural Beauty. No one’s complained about my breath, so I guess it’s OK (I do have very polite friends, so maybe that’s not a good indicator). I ended up using the Basic Mouthwash recipe (#1). It has to be easy or I’m not going to make it, if you know what I mean.

I haven’t gotten around to making body lotion yet. I feel certain it’ll contain coconut oil. Or, maybe I should just put a jar of coconut oil in the bath as I read it’s good for scrubbing the shower too. So versatile!

Not sure I’ll warm up to the whole sugar-water hairspray idea. I hardly ever use hairspray anyway. And, I’m too chicken to make my own sterile saline solution (I suppose if I was really zero-waste I wouldn’t use disposable contacts of any kind – just glasses, from 1950s, maybe they’re making a retro comeback).

So that’s probably it for me for now, other than figuring out how to make laundry detergent. Just glad to be able to put some of those jelly jars to good use. :-)

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Baking Soda is the Answer

Baking soda the main ingredient in many homemade personal care and cleaning product recipes.

Baking soda the main ingredient in many homemade personal care and household cleaning recipes.

How to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle is the question.

This morning I not only brushed my teeth with baking soda but also used it to wash my face and hair. Who knew?  Apparently, I’ve been spending way too much money on personal care products. (My hair, face and teeth are looking good.)

Now, I could have used a vinegar rinse on my hair but haven’t made any up yet (I need to buy more vinegar – in BULK!! – and if possible poured into my own reusable container). And, I’m wondering, if I regularly use baking soda and vinegar rinse on my hair and face, will I need to clean the bathroom less often? As we all know that combination (baking soda and vinegar) is a zero-waster’s household cleaning staple. Hmmm!

Why does simplifying my life seem so hard, and scary, sort of like jumping off of a cliff?

What is a Zero-Waste Lifestyle Really?

Here’s the thing, zero waste is sort of a catchall phrase more than a definition. Amy Korst author of The Zero Waste Lifestyle describe it as follows:

“Trash-free living means different things to different people. For some families, a trash-less life might mean moving from filling a giant, 64-gallon garbage can a week to filling a 32-gallon garbage can once a month. To others, it might mean a small grocery sack of garbage a week. To still others, going trash free means sending absolutely nothing to the landfill at all.”

This is my problem with the term trash-free or zero-waste. It refers to what goes to the landfill and apparently there is quite a bit of leeway in the amount. But, I think it should mean no recycling either, which is probably impossible as its hard to buy anything that isn’t encased in packaging of some kind.

My husband and I have a 20lb garbage can, which we put out each week, or every other week, but it would be nice to just put it out once a month. If I could reduce our trash by that much, which would still be 240lbs a year, I’d be psyched.

How Crafty Are You?
I’ve been thinking about attempting a zero, or near-zero-waste lifestyle. But as soon as I started reading about it I was overwhelmed.

Yikes!! Where to begin? The thing about zero-waste is that its underlying solution, the ugly truth is that we need to start making our own __________ (fill in the blank). Who has the time? And, what if I don’t want to learn how to make my own makeup, toothpaste, lotion, etc??

spice_jars_sm

We take our own spice jars and bulk food containers to the grocery store to reduce our reliance on plastic. Note tare weight stickers.

It’s not that I haven’t tried reducing my trash, with an emphasis on bypurchase plastic (that should be a word, like bycatch) at the grocery store  and by using biodegradable garbage and doggie pooh bags made of corn.  Plus, both my husband and I now use bamboo toothbrushes. (Think about it – we throw toothbrushes out every 3-4 months. More than 4.7 Billion plastic toothbrushes are dumped in landfills every year worldwide. And, they take over 1000 years to degrade.)

It’s just that I’ve tried making my own cleaning products in the past with disastrous results such as an all-purpose cleaner that was more toxic than anything I could have bought in the store. Thankfully, recipes have improved.

Looking at just one part of my life, so as not to get overwhelmed, I glanced in the bathroom and took stock. Let’s look at recipes for common bathroom necessities.

bathrm_plastic_sm

My bathroom zero-waste gap. Replacing most commercial brands with homemade recipes. Have essential oils will apparently try anything.

My Zero-Waste Gap in the Bathroom
Looking at the photo left, which is missing some items, but still, you get the idea, here’s what I’m considering making to reduce my waste:

  • Tooth paste (already use a bamboo toothbrush) – now using baking soda
  • Shampoo – now using baking soda
  • Face Wash – now using baking soda
  • Mouth Wash – found some great recipes, just got essential oils to try them out.
  • Lotion – going to try coconut oil
  • Saline solution – OK, I found some recipes but messing this up just scares me too much. So, I’m not going to replace my store-bought saline solution just yet.
  • Hairspray – made with sugar water, sounds iffy but I’ll try it if you will.
  • Laundry detergent – going to try this recipe out from Wellness Mama
  • Bathroom/Kitchen cleaners – using baking soda and vinegar
  • Dental floss – couldn’t’ find a replacement. Yarn maybe? I’m not going there right now.

Want to Try this “Zero-Waste” Thing Yourself?
Here are some starting points:

drying kelp

My first kelp harvest :-)

I find myself following Passionate Nutrition’s Jennifer Alder’s personal care tips because they’re so easy and they work. I took Jennifer’s Seaweed 101 class in the San Juans last year and love her tips on seaweed, foraging and eating nutrient-dense foods. She looked great. So, I figure she’s living proof that her tips work.

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Earth First

EarthIs there any chance that we can put the earth’s needs before our own and conserve resources? It’s a tall order and I’m not really sure it’s possible. Not because we don’t want to save resources in theory but because our way of life is so ingrained that it’ll take generations of concerted effort to change our habits, lifestyles, goals, systems and values.

Many humans consume natural resources as if they are unlimited or perpetually renewable (We used a year’s worth of resources by mid-August this year). It seems the world is slowly getting a science lesson that we are part of one complex ecosystem (UN’s Climate Change Report – damage done is irreversible ). We’re finding out that the earth’s ability to cleanse itself of our waste and regenerate its natural resources has real limits.

Earth is Talking is Anyone Listening?
Unlike humans, insects, birds, mammals, are very temperature sensitive (we are too but we can put on/take off clothes and have shelters everywhere, we’ve very adaptive). They can only live, reproduce and eat within specific air and water temperatures, for instance. As temperatures change, plants and animals shift their habitat and some will become extinct (shifted right off of this planet).

Most often we have a myopic view of how our lives and jobs are impacted by climate change instead of telescoping back out to see how the entire world is being impacted. Warmer water in Maine has caused the cod population to collapse and people have lost their jobs.

“It paid for fishermen’s boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons.

Today, the cod population has collapsed. Last month, regulators effectively banned fishing for six months while they pondered what to do, and next year, fishermen will be allowed to catch just a quarter of what they could before the ban.”

Our livelihoods and food sources are being negatively impacted by climate change – are we listening?

I’m going out on a little limb here, but climate change is going to negatively impact our transportation system too. I think air travel is going to become impossible as air patterns become more unpredictable. There are more and more reports like this one of severe turbulence that injures people and causes planes to change course. You can imagine how this will play out. Heavy doses of denial, designer crash helmets for airline travel, harness seatbelts, etc.

Closer to home, Mount Rainier’s glaciers are melting at six times the historic rate due to climate change.

It could be time to start eating crickets. We need to find ways to let the earth heal itself, if that’s even possible. It’s shaking us by our shoulders, are we listening?

No Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
I’ve been pinning my hopes on solar energy as well as other renewable energy sources as a way we might reduce our impact on the earth. But, after reading articles such as Bird by Bird in the NY Times this month it’s clear that we need to reduce our consumption of resources — period. We can’t just swap one resource for another and hope it’s OK.  It’s the fact that we consume enormous quantities of our resources that’s the problem. The article talks about birds getting fried by large solar arrays – the same solar arrays that are supposed to help us reduce our impact on the environment BUT still allow us to live exactly as we do today.

“Climate change is everything, a story and a calamity bigger than any other. It’s the whole planet for the whole foreseeable future, the entire atmosphere, all the oceans, the poles; it’s weather and crop failure and famine and tropical diseases heading north and desertification and the uncertain fate of a great majority of species on earth. The stories about individual birds can distract us from the slow-motion calamity that will eventually threaten every bird.”

Will Phone Apps Save Us?
So, what does a low-impact life look like — a cabin in the woods with no running water? Let’s hope not. One of the earliest attempts to define a low-impact lifestyle was No Impact Man and more recently there are books and blog posts advocating a Zero Waste Lifestyle. However, Millennials may have taken low-impact to a new level without sacrificing their lifestyle. As an article in The Atlantic points out Millennials prize access over ownership so they aren’t buying cars and houses as quickly as previous generations. (Isn’t consumerism (and the pressure to constantly consume more to improve GNP) one of the main reasons we’re experiencing climate change?) See: The Story of Stuff.

Apps such as AirBNB, VRBO, Lyft, RelayRides, Getaround, DogVacay, and even tool rental apps such as Zilok have changed the relationship people have to their stuff.  It’s a cultural breakthrough and maybe just what the earth needs – another way to build community and a sharing, service-based economy instead of one built around consumerism.

Gratitude the Older Sister of Sustainability
My friend Joy wrote a great blog post for her birthday about gratitude – for all of the elements of our lives most of us take totally for granted. If we were truly grateful for the comparative ease of our modern lifestyle would we be so quick to fill our lives with more stuff, and, debt, as Momastery points out in a post about a potential kitchen renovation? Can we jump off of the consumerism carrousel and still find value and fun in our lives? I think so.

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Losing Power

kwatt, kilowat, kWSaturday we lost power all day. It’s par for the course on Bainbridge where a light breeze or, in this case, a dusting of snow can render most or all of the island powerless. To be fair, temperatures had plummeted to a rarely seen 27 degrees. Frozen, our tall, regal pine trees shed their weak, damaged or dead branches taking down power lines, starting fires and impaling roofs.

Modern life depends heavily on electricity – maybe to the point of vulnerability? That realization really hit home Saturday. Maybe it’s because I had hoped to get a lot done, or maybe I just had a lot of time to think about it.

In either case, we’re lucky, we have a wood stove, plenty of dry firewood (hand-split by my husband) and a propane stove as well as a small generator (runs on gas), which is pressed into service when the food in the refrigerator is at risk. The power goes out so often that we easily slip into camping mode and reach for our headlamps on our bedside tables and light candles in the kitchen if it’s dark.

On Saturday, my husband left to go deer hunting (opening day) – he was excited as tracking deer in the snow makes his job easier. I stayed home and started a fire in the wood stove. Although I felt a twinge of guilt for creating localized air pollution, I was grateful for the wonderful warmth and looking forward to a day of reading.

Without electricity, what was harder or impossible to do?

  • Drive my car. The garage door is electric. There is a manual override but I would need to break into the locked garage to use it.
  • Clean the house. Sure I could dust or mop but vacuuming was out of the question. And, even dusting or mopping without lights on a dark winter day seems almost pointless.
  • Run the dishwasher full of last night’s stinky dishes.
  • Turn the lights on – obvious, but real.
  • Do laundry.
  • Use any room in the house. If I wanted to stay warm I had to stay in the living room near the wood stove.
  • Get work done online. No bill paying, responding to emails, doing research, entertainment. The internet was down.
  • Watch TV.
  • Talk to friends unless the cellphone is fully charged and there are backup batteries. We got rid of our land line telephone years ago and just use our cellphones, so their battery power needs to be conserved. (We have gotten backup batteries and a solar panel, but still, cellphones are our connection to the outside world and help if we need it.)
  • Baking. The idea of reading and warm cookies crossed my mind but no baking without electricity. Although, I guess if you’re really handy you could warm something on the wood stove.
  • Read ebooks, unless the reader/device is fully charged.

So, not only is our convenient, modern livestyle dependent in a very real way on electricity but also on batteries to store and discharge electricity.

Without electricity, I walked my dog and then settled in for some old-fashioned book reading by the fire. Nice for one day, but what if we had to live without electricity? Or limited electricity? Or, what about national security if the grid goes down? Eek. Large grids are starting to look like a liability.

Distributed power. That’s what I’m thinking. Micro-grids.

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