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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Four Seasons of Green

For a year or two I have been reading the occasion article at Riot 4 Austerity about a challenge where participants attempt to reduce their emissions by 90% in order to prove that Americans can limit themselves to what their fair share of the worlds emission should be if we are to limit the damage caused by global warming. The challenge is extreme yet a large a number of people have taken it up with well over 60 people contributing to the site alone and probably very many more taking the challenge in silence.

What these people are trying to achieve shatters the western norm and should be an example for all of us to contemplate if not emulate, that said no matter how admirable their actions seem it's always somewhat distant and abstract because they are not someone I know or someone who is local.

Well tonight I was at a presentation by Mike Nickerson in promotion of his new book Life, Money and Illusion (Living on Earth as if we want to stay) and was introduced to Tara Mae Hillyer who like the Rioters has created her own one year challenge called Four Seasons of Green. The description of her challenge is such

The journey of a suburban family taking the challenge to reduce their carbon footprint by becoming environmentally responsible for their own waste and bi-products as well as socially accountable through their consumer habits.

5 goals are to be reached through this year of ‘greening’.

1. To eliminate the chemical products ingested and applied topically (food-pesticide/herbicide, body care products)
2. To allow Zero chemicals to go down drains (sink, tub, dishwasher, washing machine)
3. To engage 100% Social Conscious Buying Habits in the Family
4. To increase Family’s Awareness of Global Social Justice Issues
5. To get off the electric/gas grid while remaining in a suburban environment

The project launches in January 2009. Each member of the family will maintain a monthly video blog in addition to interviewing local community members, politicians and activists on sustainability, environmental responsibility and social justice. Through the website for this project the public can follow the process of this transition; the difficulties, successes and support from other citizens. Each month video updates and video ‘how to’ guides will be posted. Upon the completion of the project at the end of 2009 a documentary film will be produced.

Tara's goals are defined somewhat differently than the Rioters yet she still challenges us all to look at what we consume and its cost to our health, the planet and the poor saps half a world away who make all this crap for us.

I would recommend that my readers, especially those that live in York Region look in on Tara's site and encourage her in this difficult challenge

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ChristyACB said...

Great concept, but I've always had a small bone to pick with Radical Simplicity type ideals.

It works on the "exception" level, but not on the larger scale.

Just one box of sterile test tubes in research is equal to one acre of usage for that day. Third world countries that live like that and provide the extreme example people use as an ideal for all people to live toward don't create cures for major diseases, don't make advances that take us away from oil and don't build the knowledge base humans must continue to build to get over the "brutal hump" of this era.

While we should all strive to use less than we are, for sure, to create some ideal that all people should be living that way, no exceptions, dooms us just as much as the consumerist way that got us here.

GAB said...

I agree that it's simplistic to think that she can make a living by not earning a living. So far she has managed to cut back a great deal but she has not managed to adequately feed herself,losing weight and suffering medical problems as a result.

Something like this needs to be worked up to, the first year should have been spent on urban gardening, canning, foraging and learning to feed herself rather than expecting her experiment to pay her enough to survive. The point should be to be self sufficient not dependant on advertising or charity. We can't all live on charity we must produce something to live on.

While I see Organic as a good thing and mandatory long term goal, certification is not needed to provide reasonably healthy food in mean time.
When the big food crunch comes we will need to learn organic practices but we won't have the luxury of turning down food that is not certified organic. I really hope her children are getting well balanced meals not just Organic ones. Many Vegans I've met have horrible ideals of nutrition, I don't think she's that naive but I've seen fat malnourised vegans before.

Cutting back needs to be done in the framework of the resources you already have available, The donation list is almost like a "please make me green list, I want you to adapt me because I can't do it myslef." This does prove we can live on less but does not provide a model society as a whole can follow. Who's going to donate all the things a society needs to become her definition of green.

Her desire for a pellet stove would nullify a great deal of her other carbon savings, making her sufferin pointless.

All the criticism aside she's doing this in earnest and really is trying, that's better than most people. If she's honest in her self analysis she'll learn something and be able to share that with others

Tara Hillyer said...

Being an idealist leaves one open for a good whack in the head on occasion and I knew that getting into this... But I appreciate your honesty.
I have fallen behind on up-dating postings on the site and would like to take this opportunity to share some more info on the project with you...

Jan-Mar are hard for any entrepreneur, the recent recession made it no easier. Yes I could have gotten a job at Wal-mart or Macdonalds to ensure there was a small income - but that would mean forfeiting the time to work on the project that I had such faith in. I knew by April my business would pick up again - and voila it has. There is now enough money coming in to support the household and the project.
Regarding "the exception level." This I realized in early march and changed how I was approaching the project. I saw how, as much as it would be great to have advertisers, or sponsors from environmental groups, this was not a sustainable practice. Other people could not just go to NEAC for funding or Home Depot or any other source - so why should I? I needed to be able reach these goals through sustainable means that others could copy.

So I have transferred my efforts into collaborate works, cooperatives and community based sharing. For example trading baby siting time, picking up a couple of extra sale items at the grocery store to share with my network, as they had done for me, and bartering services. These are not only sustainable practices, but they build community as well.

Regarding my health- it was my health that led to this project - not the project that led to my decline in health. In fact if it were not for doing the project I may not have made the connection between my Latex allergy (carba-mix)and the carba-mix in pesticides - the food that I had been eating for years had been doing a tremendous amount of damage because of my allergy.

As for my children - I am the only vegan in the house, my two boys eat meat and dairy products weekly when we have community meals/pot-lucks... However it is safe and healthy for people of any age to eat 100% vegan and organic. The children are on a 100% organic diet. All the meat and dairy they receive from these pot-luck meals are certified organic.

The point of the project was not to say that everyone should live like this - change everything in their life so dramatically - it was just to show that anyone can make ONE choice that would change the world. Whether that choice is purchasing fair trade sugar, always keeping your tire pressure at the recommended level, using tap water and a reusable bottle, adopting an animal from a shelter if you are looking for a pet, using a power bar for electrical devices... it doesn't matter what the choice is, just that a conscious choice is being made.

For myself I find it easier to make a change when I have seen it modeled - and no I am not always the best model - this is a learn as I go project - so it is far from perfect. I have learned a lot about a great many things, and in time hope to get it all posted. Some of the things I have learned have forced me to adjust the rigidity of the original goals. Flexibility during the learning process has been very helpful.

There have been many changes around me as a result of the Four Seasons of Green Project... my local and continental network supports more organic and fair trade markets, many people I am in contact daily have retired the harsh cleansers they used to clean their house for more environmental friendly ones, die-hard bottled water buyers have bought reusable bottles and are using the filtration systems that had put in years ago, the day-care and the schools my children attend have made some modifications to their programs including education around organics, fair trade, social justice, ethical living, and consciousness in decision making.

Being radical is not the norm - it is not the average - it is outside the box and often chastised - but it pushes the pendulum and can act as a catalyst for a shift - even a small one. If everyone made a small change - it would make an enormous difference.

I am not suggesting anyone give up their lifestyle - their cable, their flatscreen, their car, their food or favorite clothing line - What I am suggesting is that we have an opportunity as humans, to make decisions with consciousness - to be aware of how our behaviors affect ourselves and the world around us. We can choose to continue to ignore the problems with the environment and ethical treatment of all beings on this planet or we can choose to make one change that can help solve those problems.

Regardless of where one stand on the validity or the possibility for success of the Four Seasons of Green Project, if they are contemplating it - it has already done what it was designed to do...

The research I had done on wood/pellet burning stoves when writing out the goals reported that the burning of wood is carbon neutral.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy that pellet stoves or any other flame tech is carbon neutral, sure waste wood is capable of meeting a small market but once everybody tired deforestation would result. There is also the impact of soot and smoke in the neighbourhood, in Quebec and the BC valleys there are smog days in the winter now from the proliferation of wood stoves.

Tara Hillyer said...

The project is a learning process and of course you bring up very valid concerns. I don't really believe that the answer lies in any singular form of energy consumption but rather a combination of resources. It would be great to have had houses modeled after "The Garbage Warrior's" designs, but we have what we have - low efficiency cookie cutter homes. I am, like many others retrofitting, not building from the ground up.

I guess what I am considering when selecting resources I will draw from is the comparative impact. Is the carbon footprint/pollution from a wood stove larger or smaller than from a gas burning furnace? Propane? Oil? Nuclear? Even sources of renewable energy have drawbacks and carbon footprints in the production and storage of electricity.

The question is which does the least damage? And that answer may vary depending on where in the country and the world one lives.

I dont have the answers, so I am very open to any information you care to share. It is how I have come into most of my information - probing, researching then having the ideas challenged - it is great to have the information circulate.

I had ideas of solar energy and how that would work and have since met with experts in the field and had to revise what I thought and I how though I would use solar. It is really quite interesting.

Anyway, happy to hear any suggestions on green energy and greener choices. Would love to integrate any tips, tricks or information you care to share.

Agent L said...

Hi Folks,
I was glad to hear this whole line of discussion was triggered by a visit to hear Mike Nickerson speak about his book. I wanted to let you know he will be back in the area around June 3 if anyone would like to organize an event -- and he will also be visiting the Windfall Ecology Festival in Newmarket's Fairy Lake Park on June 13 & 14. This festival is ALWAYS a blast. And Mike is a fantastic speaker!
Liz J at Dulcimerhead World Headquarters

GAB said...

Tara, the problem is I don't think there is a right answer, there are systemic problems with all the tech fixes and other problems with the primitivism/back to the land movement too.

The carbon footprint to continue down our current road will kill us but so will the carbon footprint of us all going to pellet stoves, building 100 nukes and going electric, making enough steel to build 20,000 windmills, 3 million solar roofs, etc they will all change the way it unfolds but I don't thing the end result will be that much different.

I've done enough research to know that the $25k geothermal heat pump, or the $6500 solar hot water tank is simply not doable for the average person. I follow mining and resource depletion quite closely and every high tech answer simply leads us into a new Peak something situation as I discuss here.

I've gotten very much to the Derick Jensen place, where I believe a collapse and a die off is not only inevitable but preferable if we are going to save the biodiversity of the planet and retain the largest carrying capacity on Earth as we can.

A good start is education and demonstration, showing others that you can live on less and how to do it with whats local and available. The other side of this is teaching people to do for themselves, canning, growing food, cooking from scratch, hand crafting; all those things that mainatain peoples wealth, improve their health, create community and local economies. The idea of barter or non debt based monetary systems can actually cause a drop in GDP but still improve lives and reduce overall consumption. Will this stop the fall? probably not but it might make the fall less severe here

I want to see lobbying to get municipal governments to encourage food not lawns, allowing back yard chickens or rabits, reward businesses,schools, churches that donate their lawns to community gardens or lease them to urban farmers.

I want to see houses taxed at least partially by their efficiency and consumption rather than just size, passive solar design should be the norm, gold courses are an abominations which should natural green spaces or food producing.

I want to see a slate of like minded green/localists run under a common platform for the next round of Newmarket/Aurora/york region elections.

If we can't get these kinds of changes that will give us a chance I'll simply move to the woods and take care of my own.

Tara Hillyer said...

GAB, I agree with you completely. Especially on the issues of privatism/back to land movement... which is why I have strive to do what I can while remaining in a town-home in suburbia.

I also agree that anything in excess, or absolutism is not going to be helpful - whether it is nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind... Everything has an impact.

While filming and researching for the Peaker Plant film I am working on it became quite obvious that there are a lot of people who really are ignorant to not only the issues, but the hundreds of possible solutions -
these ofcourse are not the end all problems - but as you said they certainly lessen the impact. At this point I think that is the best we can hope for.
The kind of change that needs to happen to really reverse the damages and change the current path are so radical that most people can't even conceive of it.

If I understand you correctly you are commenting on the infrastructure and "socially acceptable" practices of energy consumption (which are skewed), and self-sufficiency. I also agree with you on all of these points. I was pulling the heads of my dandelions yesterday between rain-showers and wondering, why? Why do I have to have a lawn, I certainly dont want one - I think they are a ridiculous waste of space and resources, and they take away from the micro-ecosystems that Butterflies, Bees, Rabbits... and multitudes of creatures rely on. I am not advocating a wild yard - but a nicely arranged yard of veg, fruit, medicinal flowers would benefit the family in the house as well as the environment. And you are right if we could get at least municipal support to do more of these SPIN Farms in front and back yards the smaller communities could arrange food exchanges - If I grow peas and beans, my neighbour grows strawberries and raspberries... and we share the harvest? How great that would be. That is a mental hurdle for many people - the non-lawn idea. People seem to be quite attached and fixated on them.
Golf courses - I cant figure out how these monstrous polluters managed to be exempt for the pesticide law. It is our water table they are destroying, our air, our soil... for a select few who are upset at the sight of a dandelion? Really? It seems a little unjust that such a select few can be granted permission to destroy the environment all of us are a part of.

I am happy to pass your ideas on to some of the local politicians who are environmentally forward. Can you teach any workshops on natural gardening, canning, scratch cooking... Would be happy to post the info on Four Seasons of Green.

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