I have been neglecting to tell you about book group lately. As you may recall, I am involved with a book group run by a community group called Transition Longfellow. Transition here meaning taking steps to move toward a more sustainable way of living that is not consumer and fossil-fuel centric. The book we are reading over the course of the year is Making Home by Sharon Astyk. I am behind in telling you about two chapters.
Staying warm and keeping cool. Astyk points out that for nearly all of human history we have been living just fine in both very cold and very hot places without central heating and air conditioning. There are a good many people today who have neither of these luxuries. Astyk suggests that we do ourselves a disservice by always living and working in climate controlled buildings. I don’t have any say about how the library where I work is heated or cooled. I can say that much of the time it is far too cold and the few instances when it has actually been warm have been stifling. There are no windows anywhere that can be opened to allow in fresh air.
I suspect most of us are unable to control our workplaces, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything at home. I know people who keep their thermostat at 72F/22C all winter long. This is ridiculously wasteful. Likewise in the heat of summer. It’s time we learn to adapt again.
The main point Astyk makes in the chapter is that we need to stop thinking about heating or cooling our houses and instead start thinking about how to warm and cool ourselves. For the cold, consider things like wearing layers, having extras blankets, warm drinks, hot water bottles, heavy curtains on the windows to keep out drafts, even bubblewrap on your windows to provide extra insulation. Alternatively for the heat, fewer and lighter clothes, strategically opening and closing windows, shade trees, cooking outside or eating cold foods, cold drinks, a small kiddie pool or even soaking your feet in cold water. If you have money, consider installing better insulation in your home and better windows.
The basics of daily life. In this chapter, Astyk lays out ten basic rules for adapting:
- Buy a lot less stuff. This is pretty much a no-brainer. Buy only what you actually need and buy second hand if you can.
- Structure your life so it is easier to be green than not. For example, the library is only four blocks away but you always drive there for whatever reason you always come up with. To make you more likely to walk or bike to the library instead of drive, make it harder to get in your car – park it a block away or make the garage harder to open, that kind of thing.
- Take a Sabbath or no-use day and enforce it. Decide on one day a week that you won’t do something – drive, shop, use the computer.
- Pick the low-hanging fruit. Get around to doing things that are easy like putting your appliances on a power strip that you can turn off to avoid “phantom load” electric usage or put a stop to the junk mail or plan your meals better so you only have to go to the grocery store once a week instead of several times because you are missing an ingredient or two.
- Do things that are just as easy with human power with human power. For instance, if you have a lawn and it is pretty small, use a good push mower. It will be cheaper and not take any more time than a gas or electric mower would. Labor saving devices don’t necessarily save labor.
- Eat appropriately to your place and season. The food in Nebraska should not be the same as the food in coastal Maine. Learn when foods are actually in season and pay attention to where they are from.
- If it is the end that matters — change your means. For instance heating and cooling. We want to stay warm when it is cold and cool when it is hot. How we do that matters.
- Go at the big hogs. Figure out your biggest energy costs and have a go at reducing them. Lower/raise the thermostat, drive less, eat less or no meat, get a smaller refrigerator.
- Cut things in half. You don’t have to give things up entirely, consider cutting them in half — use half as much detergent, wash your towels half as often, cut your driving in half, cut your food waste in half. Things don’t have to be 100%.
- We do like things to be easy but not everything we like is easy. Make the hard stuff interesting and it can go a long way toward making people forget that it can be hard. Consider opportunities for creativity or learning and accomplishment, something to be proud of even have fun at.
The rest of the chapter details things like low or no electric lighting, laundry, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators and a few other things.
Bookman and I have made it our goal to stop using our clothes dryer. I already hang things out in the summer but we want to make it so we can do this year-round regardless of weather. It is going to take some work and some rearranging to make a space and we have to get a couple more drying racks, but it is 100% doable and I am looking forward to cutting that energy hog out of my life. We are also looking in to creative solar powered indoor evening lighting. We’ve got some ideas. Hopefully they work. I’ll let you know!