Local interdependence: The case for small-is-beautiful earth-healing

Filed under: Archives,Living on the Earth |

by Lee Temple 

A small-is-beautiful earth-healing family portrait: From left to right, our veggie garden and its new hoop house, the solar array, apple tree, earth-bermed pantry/root cellar, and solar battery box. These important "family members" allow us to eat our own fresh greens and fresh or frozen summer garden veggies all year long, with just a fraction of the embedded-energy carbon footprint of other locally-grown food, which has just a fraction of the embedded-energy CF of most trucked-in, store-bought food. They also help us "take back our power," and dramatically enhance our emergency-preparedness, self-reliance and all-around peace-of-mind in today's wacko world.

Last month I investigated the large-scale approach to healing global climate change.  We discovered climate change’s harsh reality, our 2015 “climate tipping point,” and the corresponding urgency of considering all viable approaches.  Let’s shift gears now and “get small” by studying the grass-roots perspective.

Many of us haven’t fully digested our dire straits, evidenced in the confusion around how best to move forward.  Climate change-denying business-as-usual and environmentalist elitism still dominate the ideologically-polarized “shadow-boxing” ring today.  Unable to see “us” in “them,” our political stalemates often achieve “plenty of nothin”.  Decades lost in such paralyzing gridlock, coupled with burgeoning growth, have brought us to our global climate change cliff-edge.

For example, in our community, many sincere, long-term attempts at small-scale renewable development (solar gardens, local micro-hydro, substation solarization, etc.) remain politically and/or financially non-viable (see Kelly Hart’s article updating the current status of our Crestone Solar Garden in this issue).

Garden as commute. Small-Is-Beautiful can create immense life-quality benefits: My getting to work today involves traversing our lovely flower garden (above), replacing the stressful 100-mile daily commute (and working three jobs) that I abandoned twenty years ago. This one behavioral change (decreasing mileage from 45k to 10k miles and from 6-8 down to 0-2 plane flights/yr), reduced our transportation CF 90%, and eliminated over 40,000 gal/fuel. In the summer, this is our favorite "room" in the house!

This is really unfortunate, since local “distributed solar” is clearly one of the most intelligent, effective, appropriate and increasingly popular approaches to green energy, and one that folks like me, Vince and Mary Palermo, John Tembrock and others have been actively trying to make happen (as an unpaid community service) for Crestone, since 2007.  And even though we’ve had renowned experts like Ceal Smith and Joy Hughes helping our effort during the past year, the numbers still don’t work out for our community yet.  We’ll stay after it though!

Other ongoing efforts like Chokurei Ranch, Chokecherry Farms/Shumei Community Supported Agriculture programs, Crestone Charter School, and burgeoning home-gardens are moving us forward.   Since most of us can’t effectively participate in such community-based efforts, Crestone’s 37 million+ pounds of annual carbon emissions remain largely un-mitigated today.  Thankfully, while awaiting the necessary political/financial drivers, we can all participate in the smallest of the small: the individual/family household-scale.

At approximately 25-30%, “energy” (electricity) is just the exposed tip of the iceberg in a typical American household’s overall carbon footprint (CF); and residential energy-use comprises just 24% of  SLVREC’s total distribution.  Yet “energy” (fuel) is deeply embedded in several other home-based emissions areas too; primarily transportation (roughly 20-25%), heating/cooking (20-25%), food/water supply (10-15%), and goods/services (10-15%).  Let’s take these into consideration when planning more comprehensive household carbon mitigation.

Local Interdependence-based movements like sustainability, permaculture, relocalization and transition-towns all share the goals of lowering carbon emissions while raising life quality.  The small-scale realm of little, every-day changes works for all.  Small, simple steps can have great effect when made by many.  When time is precious, achievable action trumps speculative rhetoric.  Hands-on experience is often the best teacher, and can provide un-matched “theory-into-practice” road-testing evidence.

Here’s a personal example:  Back in 1992, Carol and I envisioned a “small-is-beautiful”-based sustainability demonstration founded on the ancient homestead archetype.  We incorporated as many available systems and techniques as we could afford: passive solar design, solar power generation, low water usage, etc.  We worked pretty hard at it over the years, and we’re still at it.

Home-grown's all right by me! Keith Conway, Jack Goldberg and I built this puppy for $2k (with trex, electrical conduit, lexan and 2x lumber) to Carol's demanding, "varmint-proof" gardening specs. This 20'x7' Hoop house paid for itself in two years, and requires no heat. The water-filled buckets to the right modulate temperature extremes, and we close and cover the bed coldframes at night to keep our greens cozy during winter's frequent sub-zero temps. Home-grown, "big-chi" organic greens every day!

Although often critiqued as labor- and time-intensive, our small-is-beautiful lifestyle is enjoyable and life-enhancing.  It anchors healing peace and equanimity in a stressful world. Now we’re giving back too:  creating carbon-neutral solar power; a better atmosphere, food, and a peaceful, calming, beautiful presence. Our flourishing “living nature sanctuary” greatly supports plant/animal habitat.

And did we get results! Our aggregate CF decreased by about 75%, (56.4-14.1 tons/CO2/yr), several times the mitigation provided by switching to solar power alone.  Now we’re under 20% of the average American household’s 80+ tons.  Homes account for roughly 5-18% of the aggregate U.S.-CF.  Mass-replicating our performance could thus mitigate up to 15%—874 million metric tons (MMT) of the U.S. total (5,833 MMT).  So “small-is-beautiful” can truly enable big-time carbon reduction! Though we still have more to mitigate, I hope our real-world efforts inspire your own.

What works best for you?

Baby steps: Calculate your “baseline” CF. Install compact-fluorescent bulbs. Get a home energy audit (contact Tamar Ellentuck, Veterans Green Jobs Weatherization, 587-9492). Don’t heat/cool empty rooms. Turn off/unplug unused computers/electronics. Wash clothes in cold water.  Inflate tires properly.  Reduce/re-use/recycle everything.  Use tree-saving recycled paper products (trees mitigate carbon).   Shop locally.  Visit the Saturday Market and Chokurei Ranch Store/Café—support local food!  Nurture your spirit with nature, music, books and friends.

Bigger steps: Fix energy-audit-identified air leaks. Install low-flow water fixtures, fix water leaks. Seal window edges. Install insulating window shades, ceiling fans, programmable thermostats.  Bike to work; drive/travel less; carpool.  Install low-energy appliances/water heaters. Switch to fuel-efficient/hybrid vehicle(s).  Install solar thermal/pv system(s), gardens, hoop-/greenhouses. Work at home; plant/maintain trees; boycott airline travel!  Track your progress: compare current/baseline CF’s annually.

We can all make effective Earth-healing contributions on all levels and in all our activities today, in our own ways, on our own terms.  Large- and  small-scale green solutions reveal several important truths underlying this all-inclusive approach.  Both are imperfect, yet both are doable.  Both require abandoning utopian ideologies to achieve real carbon mitigation.  In our urgent time-frame, political accommodation, negotiation and cooperation—golden-rule-based “necessary partnering”—trumps everything else.   Both embody the spirit of Earth-healing that can be trusted.

As our ancestors gave us life’s treasure galore, our great-grandchildren’s fate is tied to every step we take; to our daily interactions with family, community, and world.  We are their ancestors. Will we abandon or save them?

A long-time Crestone sustainability advocate, writer, community-organizer and consultant, Lee Temple has been living the low (carbon) life and continuously producing “100% Genuine SLV Solar Power” since 1993.  These exciting topics and more are covered in his forthcoming book, The Inherent Unity of All Things, Healing the World with Mindfulness, Understanding, and Loving Kindness.

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