52 Weeks Down - Week 23 - Big Changes, Little Changes

Sharon September 30th, 2007

In a couple of weeks, this series will have covered half a year. You’ve got 22 weekly changes you could make - but what we haven’t talked about is how to sort them all out, how to decide where to put your personal allotment of energy and carbon, what to do and what not to do. Up until now, I’ve mostly been focusing on the possibilities, but how do you decide whether to put limited time into hand-mowing your lawn or making pickles, to spend that dollar on cloth bags or on rechargeable batteries. In a perfect world, of course, we’d do all of it. But the reality is that particularly as we’re making behavioral changes, we have to pick and choose. Once putting the cloth bag into your purse and using the cloth diapers and hand mowing the lawn get to be normal, you’ll find you have more time for other changes.

If you wanted to organize your energy reductions, you might take two approaches. The first one is the “Pick the Low Hanging Fruit” plan. That is, you look and see what the easiest changes to make are. For example, you’ve been running to the library on Thursday and the grocery store on Friday. But suddenly, you realize you can combine those choices if you go to the other library branch, and do it on Friday - and without any major effort, you’ve cut out 9 miles of round trip driving. Or you suddenly realize that you’ve had the computer on all the time, but don’t use it on Mondays because you don’t have time - so you start disconnecting the computer on Sunday night and leaving it off until Tuesdays. The low hanging fruit is simply a matter of applying your mind to the obvious, and picking up things as they seem easiest.

Another way of approaching this to decide to make your cuts in your biggest expenditures. That is, you might look at where your energy usage is and see that your electric use is way above average. So you might concentrate on electric usage - removing some bulbs, replacing others with Compact Flourescent or LEDs, turning off your computer, cutting phantom loads, maybe saving up for a more efficient fridge. You could divide your energy consumption up into categories, much as we have over at the Riot for Austerity, and decide to focus on that.

One of my favorite ways of sorting these out is economically or temporally. If I’m trying to decide between two choices, I tend to prioritize those things that give me either the gift of time or money. And a large number of choices do. For example, in October, I will buy 10 bushels of local apples for 140 dollars. My local Walmart would sell me 10 bushels of apples for 400 dollars. No contest. My dryer would cost me about $100 per year to run. My clothesline and pins cost $4 - 6 years ago. Amortized annual cost is under .50 per year. Running our second car costs us more than a thousand dollars a year in taxes, maintenence and insurance - the second I figure out how to find an efficient commuting vehicle that will also hold six people, our van is out of hear.

Or there’s the pleasure sorting method - what gets you the most fun. I love to cook and hate to sew, and if I have to choose between a method of energy reduction that involves cooking something or sewing sometihng, let’s just say it isn’t always that much trouble. So while I make my own crackers, granola, popsicles and yogurt, I’m still buying my underwear and bras. It is on the list to do someday, though. I have the hope of getting rid of our van and going to a single car (as yet we have two, because one is an efficient commuting vehicle, but can’t fit all six of us, two dogs and a bale of hay, and the other is an inefficient vehicle that can fit the above) and a pair of expensive dutch bikes with big kid-carriers in front. This will eventually be an economical choice, but right now I mostly like it because the sheer pleasure of pedalling vastly exceeds driving.

However you approach it, the best trick is simply to do it. In many ways, it is the breaking of old habits, automatic consumption and assumption that is hard, more than the practices themselves.



7 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 23 - Big Changes, Little Changes”

  1. Anonymouson 30 Sep 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I’ve been reading for awhile, but thought I’d post for the first time to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and the most recent posting you made.

    I’m also a little curious about something I missed. You’ve counted the weeks, but you write with a commitment for the long term. I just wondered if you’re doing it for a year for a book as other bloggers have in mind, or a year as an experiment, or what.

    Whatever the motivation,thanks for sharing your experiences and reflections.

    Kate (in northeastern NY)

  2. Marnieon 30 Sep 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Just give up wearing bras! There, that one’s taken care of…

  3. jewishfarmeron 30 Sep 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Hi Kate - where are you located?

    I started this series because several people had written to say that a lot of my advice was too advanced - that I needed to offer ideas for people new to energy conservation. I honestly haven’t planned much further than writing 52 of the out - I’m writing a book on another subject now and have a second book due in the spring, so I can’t think much further than that.

    I’m honestly not doing anything differently for this section - just offering suggestions. But we’re doing the Riot for Austerity, which involves cutting our emissions by 90% over the next year and keeping it that way for a lifetime. Whatever we do, we’re in it for the long haul ;-).

    Thank you for the kind words.

    Marnie, when I’m home writing and homeschooling, let’s just say the undergarments do go by the wayside, but I’m a 40DD, and if I ever want to run without knocking myself unconscious ;-), a bra is a necessity. I don’t like ‘em much, though.


  4. Flickon 01 Oct 2007 at 4:05 am

    Sharon, Hi. I visit your site a good deal and am always delighted/informed/inspired by you, your numerous undertakings, interests, and areas of expertise. I was wondering if you could help me out by listing a favorites book list on all things that bear fairly directly on the convergence of sustainability, peak oil, gardening, local action, social justice, ecosystem collapse, etc. Also any good science books related to these issues. Any good books emphasizing potential workable solutions would be particularly welcome. Also interested in well made documentary films, DVDs, CDs, websites, magazines or small publications that you find eye opening. I’m putting together a lending shelf and information/ current events/opinions board on sustainability and climate change in the community center of my rural Virginia neighborhood. I think making information on these issues visible and accessible is key to generating change. I know you have read widely in this realm and trust your judgement. I also know you are crazy busy. I thought maybe all your readers might be interested in such a list. Maybe you could include it (or a brief version) in a post (maybe you already have!) I have a wish list currently of about fifty books, mags, videos, etc. Since I have gleaned some suggested reading from your blog already I’m sure there will be some overlap. I guess what I’m looking for are the books you have come across that are most likely to wake people up and get them inspired to take effective action.
    I recommended you look at the old Ford Escort wagon for good cheap reliable transportation. Hay can go on the roofrack or tow a small trailer. Don’t know if you could fit your whole family in (definitely not with kidseats I guess.) The 5 speed version gets better than 40 mpg. on highway. Ours (1995) has 250,000 (mostly)trouble free miles and is going strong. The best part is they are undervalued and can be gotten cheap(could probably buy 20 for the price of a new hybrid. We didn’t replace our old van when it died and since I haul a lot of stuff I miss it. I borrow or rent/borrow my friends’ trucks and vans on occasion. I think what ever car you get, the idea of using a small detachable trailer would substitute pretty well for the lost hauling capacity many rural lives seem to require (and save a lot of gas and carbon emissions). Thanks for all that you do and that you do so well. Flick

  5. Anonymouson 01 Oct 2007 at 3:16 pm


    I’m in the Capital Region.

    And thanks for explaining what you’re doing!


  6. Ethanon 02 Oct 2007 at 4:01 am

    I have a method of choosing the order of implementation… Keep a list of all the items which you will require for low-energy living (clothes drying rack, heavy blankets, canvass bags, etc…) Keep this list with you (or in your head) and acquire them when they appear to you… At garage sales, flea markets, on craigslist, etc. In this way, you can implement a low-impact, energy-saving lifestyle without breaking the bank and without participating in excessive consumerism. Bigger ticket items like home insulation may not be able to be folded into this method, but you can save up for them in this way!

  7. homebrewlibrarianon 02 Oct 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I think it’s absolutely true that little changes will add up to big ones. Over the last few years I’ve made many little changes - use cloth bags for shopping, recycle as much as possible, ride my bike to work, use the car once a week or less, etc. - and when I made a change I hardly noticed anything. But now, two-three years out, I look back and see the impact all those changes have made. Now I’m looking at some bigger changes, like coordinating with a dear friend to sell his car (or give it to his daughter and son-in-law) and use my brand new one then I’ll cancel my insurance and get put on his policy. We’ve been discussing this and the implications of this decision but have yet to actually do it. But it would have been unthinkable to even start the conversation had this been three years ago. Sometimes it just takes all those baby steps first.


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