Step One – priority baselines . . .

In order to make-a-(green) plan I will begin with assessing where I am at right now. I will do this against a backdrop of what is the average way other Americans live. The figures below are from the Riot for Austerity, (How low can you go?), 90% Reduction Rules. I may post more about the source of this construct in another post. For now I simply use these figures to help me establish my own baselines.

Here are the 7 categories:

  1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons per person, per year. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons per person, per year.

I am well within the 90% reduction here. But, this is because I don’t work outside of my home. My goal for 2008 is to get this number as low as possible because I want to increase walking and add biking to my life.

  1. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh per household, per year, or about 900 kwh per household per month. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 per household, per year or 90 kwh per household per month.

My usage averages 330 kwh a month, so this represents 37% of the national average. To reduce it by 240 kwh a month I will have to do some drastic reductions. This will be a major challenge.

  1. Heating and Cooking Energy – N/A as a separate category. My heating and cooking are electric.
  2. Garbage - the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage per person, per day. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage per person, per day.

I don’t anticipate this being very difficult. The make-a-(green) plan is to compost my food scraps and to purchase no prepared (pre-processed) food. Since I buy bulk food, most packaging will be eliminated. I hope to avoid all plastic coming into my house if possible. It will be interesting to keep a tally of this.

  1. Water. The Average American uses 100 gallons of water per person, per day. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons per person, per day.

I will have to do some homework to understand how to convert cubic yards or whatever the fuck the utility bill measures water usage into gallons per month. I am trying to be really sensitive to this because of living in a drought area.

  1. Consumer Goods The average American spends 10K per household, per year on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc. … Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars per household, per year.

Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price.

Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

This is simplified for me as I have my own goal. No purchases except used unless necessary. There are a couple purchases I will make this first week of the year; e.g., fitted sheet, solar oven and possibly a pan for my induction cooker.

  1. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.

#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *locally and organically*. Local usually means within 100 miles. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *grass-fed* or produced with *home grown or locally grown, organic feed.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from Iowa in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being at least 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.

#2 is *dry, bulk* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *only*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods - conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

This will be a real challenge to get the proportions right. Early in December I made a list of all of the bulk foods that I buy from Henry’s. I handed the list to the bulk food manager and he promised to let me know the next day where each of the items came from – geographically. Looks like I need to see him again. I priced a CSA membership for the year and it was cost prohibitive. The Farmer’s Market set up every Sunday across the street, so I don’t have much excuse not to go.

I am not sure that I care to log these calculations in my blog on a daily basis. I’d like to come up with some way of recording and reporting success, but I am still considering how best to do it. I will do a bit more thinking about how I recount my challenge in this blog format.