Casaubon's Book

A friend of mine, Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man) once observed that cutting your energy usage should be as easy as rolling off a log – that as long as it is always easier to use more resources, and the path of least resistance heads towards taking the car or turning up the heat, we’re destined to struggle. And he’s right.

However, in another way, he may be wrong. While I agree with him that we can do a lot of things to make energy reduction a lot easier for people (think, using one really obvious example, how many people are simply afraid to ride their bikes in traffic, and who could be persuaded to take a bike if they simply had a safe place to ride), I’m not sure that it will ever be as easy as rolling off a log.

Why? Because there isn’t a one-size fits all answer to the problems raised by our resource use. Not everyone lives in the same place. Not everyone has the same needs. Not everyone is going to make the same changes – nor should they. If a basic principle of using less and living better is to live more locally, that alone will radically reshape our choices. Heating is going to be much more a priority for me in upstate NY than it would be for someone in Pheonix – on the other hand, coppicing some trees to do it with is going to be a lot more viable in my climate than in a water-straitened one. Local food sheds will produce different cuisines – there is no such thing as a one-size fits all diet.

Beyond location, there are differences of structure. All of us have things we’re just not prepared to do. Or we’re not prepared to do them yet. I don’t have a refrigerator – or rather I do, but it isn’t plugged in. During the cold months, we use our enclosed porch for natural refrigeration. During the warm periods, we use the smaller fridge as an icebox, rotating frozen milk jugs to provide coolth from the super-efficient freezer we require for professional reasons (since we sell meat from our farm). The substantial savings in electric costs works great for us. It freaks other people out – but there are plenty of people who’d rather die than give up their fridges but who are perfectly willing to consider going to the laundromat. Given the distance from her to my local laundromat, the size of my family and the fact that we use almost no disposable items (cloth for most), my washer would be the very last appliance I gave up. Fridge? No biggie.

The biggest barrier to making a real impact, however, is that people get confused about what matters and how much – and for good reason. First of all, there’s plenty of greenwashing “look, here’s a green chainsaw so you can deforest more of your land!” “Look, buy this designer eco-bag and save a teeny tiny bit of oil in plastic bags and feel good about your impact…” Second, it is genuinely confusing. For example one study suggested that Brits should import their lamb from New Zealand, because it used less energy than wintering over sheep in Britain. But the comparison was between the most common meat breeds of sheep in both countries, rather than well adapted British landraces that require fewer inputs. Of course, they produce less lamb – so the answer might well be “eat less lamb, and when you do eat it, choose different breeds” – but how many people shopping at even a farmer’s market ask what breed of sheep their meat came from? How many would understand the answer?

That’s why the same generalities get repeated over and over again. So we get people converting to CFL lights, which is good, but not enough. We get people buying green products, which is helpful, but not enough. And which products? How do we sort all this out?

Well, my goal has been to figure it out for my family and to pass that information along. After 3 years of living at between 1/5 and 1/10th of the energy the average family uses, there are some generalities I can offer to people. But they aren’t the ones you’ll see in most of the “10 tips to go green” articles.

1. Buy a lot less stuff. So much of what’s out there focuses on replacing one consumer need with a marginally less toxic or awful option. This is a lousy way to make substantial reductions in your energy usage. What makes a huge difference is reducing consumer spending radically – that is, cutting back on everything from lumber to underpants. When you do buy things, but them used. This is really hard for most people – but the reality is all those dollars operate like votes – they say “make another one, and make more packaging for it, and run the factory a little longer.” Not buying stuff is one of the most powerful tools we’ve got.

2. Structure your life so that it is easier to be green than not. Most of us have a limited mount of self-discipline – we are a little lazy. So if there’s a choice between a mile and a half walk or just hopping in the car, we find that despite our best intentions, we just didn’t get going in time to walk. Well, the harder you make all that stuff for yourself, the better. That means disconnect the appliances you don’t want to use, and put them up on a high shelf, so that it is easier to use the manuals (or you could sell them). Don’t have a car, or don’t have second car, so that if you want to go to the library you have to walk, bike or take the bus.

3. Take a Sabbath or a no-use day and enforce it. Try and establish at least one day a week in which you don’t drive, don’t turn on the computer and don’t shop. The value of this is that a. it gives you the gift of what we all say we want anyway, time with family and friends, quiet time, etc… But it also prevents us from constantly powering things up. Turn stuff off – start with one day, try and add more if you can. What’s amazing about this is how much of a pleasure this comes to be – but it is hard to disconnect.

4 Pick the low hanging fruit. You probably have some really obvious ways that you are wasting energy. For example, not putting your tv and vcr on a powerstrip allows them to continue drawing power when you aren’t using them. Eliminating this “phantom load” is a pretty easy step. Or perhaps you don’t meal plan so you’ve been running out to the store two or three times a week. But it isn’t really hard to to shift to doing it once, while doing other errands. You’ve been meaning to stop your junk mail, and you don’t really like it, but you haven’t gotten around to it.

5. Do things that are just as easy with human power, with human power. Got a little postage stamp of a lawn? Well, get a push mower. By the time you change your oil and get the thing out of the garage, you will have used more of your own energy than simply running a good push mower (if you’ve never used a new, light one, don’t assume it will be too hard) over that bit of lawn. Want to start baking your own bread, but assuming you need a bread machine? Get a book that shows no-knead recipes that rise overnight – you can have better bread for breakfast with less effort. We tend to assume that labor-saving devices save labor – we assume it so strongly that we often don’t check, and it turns out, they don’t.

6. Eat appropriately to your place and season. What grows well there? What’s in season? What’s local? What’s in your backyard? No one should eat as much meat as the typical American does, and often recommendations on diet focus on not eating meat or as much. This is important, but the kind of meat matters too – what grows well naturally near you? What do local farmers have. Did you know that meat, eggs and mil are seasonal as well? What is ready now? What can you get inexpensively? Can you preserve some of what is abundant now for the time when it won’t be? Local diets are really local – the food you’d eat in Nebraska and the food you’d eat in coastal Maine are not the same, and shouldn’t be.

7. If it is the end that matters – change your means. Consider household heating for example – most of us want to be warm enough to be comfortable at home. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, however, including wearing more clothes, putting on a hat, heating a rice bag or hot water bottle and placing it strategically, using space heaters or radiant heaters, adapting to cooler temperatures early in the season, heating the whole house, etc… Focus on achieving your goal (being comfortable) and on finding new ways to do it – you can focus on heating you, rather than the entire house. You want to have tea or coffee available all day? Ok, try a thermos, instead of running the coffee pot all morning. You need enough light to read by? What about an LED book light? You want the kids to look like their friends? How about finding a nice consignment shop, or organizing a clothing swap with friends? Sometimes we mix up ends and means, and assume that the means are the point – that what we care about isn’t being warm, but having the house be 70.

8. Go at the big hogs. The things that are probably your biggest energy costs are heating, cooling, refrigeration, transport and your meat consumption. So when you try and figure out how to make an impact, start there. Find that carpool. Try the bus. Make more vegetarian meals. Replace your fridge with a smaller model. Put jugs of water in fridge and freezer since it runs more efficiently full. Reinsulate. Run the a/c only when it is above 82 in the house.

9. Cut things in half. Nobody enjoys giving things up, so consider halving them instead. Use half as much detergent, shampoo, conditioner – those measures on the bottles are meant to sell things. Spend half as much on movies and treats. Wash towels and sheets half as often. Try and walk or bike half the time. Try and waste only half the food you have been. Remember, things don’t have to be 100% – and often, the impact of doing something half the time includes you recognizing that we could do it even less.

10. We do like things to be easy, but not everything we like is easy. For all that it is important that people not feel befuddled and overwhelmed by the idea of reducing energy usage, it is possible to get people involved by the creative, fun and engaging elements of doing this. That is, even if it never is as simple as rolling off a log, people are engaged by complex things when they derive a sense of artfulness, accomplishment and pleasure from them. That is, you can get people to try and navigate a local diet, even if that’s more complex than “don’t eat X” if you can convince them that really local diets taste better and offer opportunities for creative expression. It may not be easy to figure out how to make your own, mend your own or do without things – but if people get to be pleased and proud that they learned something new or accomplished something difficult, they may do it anyway. Making the hard stuff interesting goes a long way to making people forget that it can be hard.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 dogear6
    January 21, 2010

    Another item to consider is that not all answers work all the time. Right now, I have two pets that are dying. They are not sick enough yet to be put down, but they are winding down their lives quickly.

    We have chosen to leave the heat up in their sleeping area at night to make them more comfortable. This won’t last but another couple of weeks and then it will be over.

  2. #2 Greenpa
    January 21, 2010

    “8. Go at the big hogs. The things that are probably your biggest energy costs are heating, cooling, refrigeration, transport and your meat consumption. ”

    You’ll like this, Sharon. I just figured out yet ANOTHER way in which refrigeration is EVIL.
    :-) Crunchy’s gonna hate me.

    Meat. Is meat evil? Millions of chimps and bonobos would say no, it’s tasty, once in a while, and good for growing children. Is industrial meat production, ending in a sealed irradiated packet of porkchops and “not more than 12% of a proprietary tenderizing and flavorizing solution” (aka “water”, to bump the weight up, when it’s illegal to add water, to bump the weight up) – yes, it is. And I do mean real live evil, not bad.

    So. It’s refrigeration’s fault, in fact. The refrigerator is also responsible for rampaging, marauding, pillaging vegans.

    People used to eat less meat. You can find tomes on why; in fact several have appeared here.

    But one of the biggest reasons is generally ignored, because you have to look at the entire process.

    When I was in China, eating “chicken and something” out in the wilds, it occurred to me; this chicken; right here, in my teeth- was alive, 20 minutes ago. Tops. And that is why the toddler over there, wearing the cute outfit with no bottom to it, so you don’t have to worry about diapers, grows up thinking eating meat is normal. He’s seen chickens killed, gutted, chopped, and cooked, since before he could speak. Mom does it. It’s normal.

    So- segue. You’re hungry. Have a craving for Southern Fried Chicken…

    You know, if you had to go and kill – bleed- pluck – gut -and disassemble a chicken AND CLEAN UP AFTER – to have your SFC – I’ll bet you anything you like that you’d eat a HELL of a lot less of it.

    Refrigeration enables mass chicken murder. And turkey- both of those meats have gadzupled in use in the past 50 years. It’s VERY well known in marketing that one of the biggest contributors to highly profitable chicken mass murder was the advent of – the partial package. No longer did you have to buy a whole chicken. THANKS TO THE EVIL OF REFRIGERATION – you could now just buy a couple bits- and let some other lazy degenerate buy a few more, hours later… etc.

    Multiply by millions of lazy degenerates.

    With cows and pigs, people have bought just bits for millennia- but you still had to go to the butcher, and get bits that had been alive very recently. Now, vast ships full of frozen baby lambs (BABY LAMBS!) wander over the oceans for months, in search of consumers. Passing huge factory ships full of flash-frozen baby cod (BABY COD!) – which don’t even have to search for prey to unload on (Omega-3 slaves will pay anything…)

    So, not only does your refrigerator consume ~ 1/10 th of all the electricity you pay for- but it, and its big cousins the commercial freezers – are consuming vast chunks of the planet; as they enable the mindless thoughtless consumption of mass quantities of MILLIONS of baby lambs, and BILLIONS 5 week old mutant chickens, and…

    ok, I’ll stop.

    Evil, I tell you! Evil!!! Sharon is pure, I know- but I have doubts about the rest of you…
    :-)

  3. #3 ET
    January 21, 2010

    Have less kids.
    Any way you figure, less people means less energy and resource use.

  4. #4 Anonymous
    January 21, 2010

    ET nailed it. Fewer people would be a great start.

  5. #5 Dave
    January 21, 2010

    Takena Technologies has just posted a great new app to the Apple iTunes store called CFL Savings. With it you can calculate the cost of both standard and CFL bulbs and how long it will take to pay you back for the expense of CFL bulbs.

    You might be surprised on your savings. Check it out.

  6. #6 curiousalexa
    January 21, 2010

    The best part about being broke? Can’t afford to buy surplus consumer goods. Once I save up for that scythe, I’m *really* going to appreciate it!

    When I lived in the woods of southern Indiana, I used a cooler. When I went into town, I would buy some ice and only enough refrigerated items I could eat in less than a week. (It was a spiffy 5-day cold cooler.) Living with other people, that isn’t an allowable option. Well, I could use my cooler, but the roomies are not giving up their refrigerator!

    In this house, we’ve given up on CFs – the power surges kill them too quickly, whereas the incandescents seem to survive. So less total waste (and no mercury questions). Personally, I prefer an oil lamp for evening light in my own room, rather than the harsh electric lights. But then, lamp oil is yet another petroleum product. Guess I need to get those beehives, eh?

    I still want to do the interviews with the 90% reductionists and get the ideas into a book that can be widely distributed!

  7. #7 Katherine
    January 21, 2010

    That is one thing that annoys me about these lists: they are always US- or UK-centric. You’ve been pretty good on most counts, especially emphasising that different solutions will be better for different people and areas. But I live in NZ. I eat NZ meat, milk, eggs. I suspect the footprint of these is much less when I eat them (so I should eat more and deprive you of it :P)

  8. #8 Brad K.
    January 21, 2010

    @ ET – “have less kids” – without at least 2.1 children per couple, no culture can sustain itself past 25 years or so. Notice that the Muslims as a whole are averaging 8.1 kids per couple. It may not seem like a war in the US, today, but basic security forbids unilateral disarmament in the face of an armed enemy.

    And “going local” is going to take a *lot* more farmers and craftspeople. Not that many are going to be coming from the about-to-be-disassembled corporate population.

    @Greenpa,

    About refrigeration. I think there is something you overlooked. Without industrial agriculture and especially refrigeration, we wouldn’t have the thousand-ton, tens of thousands of tons, and million tons of meat and produced “recalled” and condemned several times a year.

    Just as massively promulgated artificial insemination threatens the diversity of livestock gene pools (where all cows are bred to just a very few bulls), refrigeration of products and homogenization of the market place places enormous amounts of food at risk of single-point contamination. Or at risk of a single equipment manufacturer going out of business. Or a single international incident cutting off a horrifying portion of America’s annual food for people and pets. (And, yes, the Food Safety Act is still in process in the US Senate, assuring that more people have to hire union labor to get food to the farmers market or road side stand, as well as federally audited and registered to garden, store, or transport food for people or animals. Thanks for writing this law, too, Monsanto.)

  9. #9 Lora
    January 21, 2010

    Greenpa: Yes, absolutely, the giant freakin’ hassle involved in killing, plucking and eviscerating, followed by cleanup, for sure people would eat less meat and treasure what they’ve got. On the plus side, heritage breed poultry that people raise themselves, fed on grass and dinner leftovers in addition to the usual feed/mash, allowed to roam in the sunshine, taste so much better than the mega-farmed crap, that we’d probably have more chicken addicts, so there’s definitely a trade-off there. ;-)

  10. #10 aimee
    January 21, 2010

    cool, I got a few of the biggies nailed!

    I buy everything used, just about. There are many reasons I do this, ranging from those you outlined to declining to support sweatshop labor, to saving me money. Plus these days, used goods are often of very superior quality compared to cheap new goods. Think – all those 1950′s blenders in Goodwill are still going strong, but the cheap piece of plastic crap you can get at Target for $9.99 or whatever will probably break inside of a year. Same goes for a good quality used coat from somebody like Eddie Bauer versus a shoddy new product.

    Transportation – homemade biodeiesel made from 100% recycled veggie oil. I don’t actually feel that guilty running to the store 1.5 miles away.

    Meat – yeah, we eat it. Plenty more than we need, I’m sure. But we buy whole animals from our neighbors and raise our own, and I’ve done the math. My family is responsible for the death of about ten animals a year, mostly chickens. And those animals lived as natural, free range life.

    And sheer laziness ensures I don’t do any laundry before it is well and truly time.

  11. #11 Rebekka
    January 22, 2010

    “without at least 2.1 children per couple, no culture can sustain itself past 25 years or so. Notice that the Muslims as a whole are averaging 8.1 kids per couple. It may not seem like a war in the US, today, but basic security forbids unilateral disarmament in the face of an armed enemy.”

    And so what if the remaining human population is Muslim and not American? It’s not like Americans are in some way superior to Muslims. If the earth can only support x number of people, it can only support x number of people. Muslims having 8.1 kids per couple (if that number is actually accurate, which I personally very much doubt) is actually a reason for you to have less, not more.

    In fact, given that the average Muslim probably uses a sh*tload less resources than the average American, it might be a good thing if they’re the survivors.

  12. #12 annette
    January 22, 2010

    Thank you Rebekka, I totally agree with you. Not to mention that there are a fair number of Muslims who ARE American, so the whole Muslim vs American thing is just idiotic. Or are white, Christian Americans the only ones who count?

  13. #13 stripey_cat
    January 22, 2010

    Out of interest, what is the infant mortality of the populations you’re averaging to get that 8.1 figure, Brad? If half or more of your kids are dying before they reproduce (or never reproducing because they’re not in an economic position to support a family), then that sort of birth rate isn’t totally unreasonable. If you’re recently seeing falling death-rates and increased reproductive success, you’d expect the birth-rate fall to lag a little as the cultural pressures adjust.

  14. #14 Rob
    January 22, 2010

    Question for Sharon,

    We heat our West Virginia mountain home mostly with wood. We have 87 acres, mostly forested, so we can’t burn the wood fast enough to make any dent whatsoever in forestation. In fact, trying to keep meadows clear to support wildlife diversity means we simply cut trees down and pile them up in brush piles for creatures to live in.

    So the question is this: does it matter, in our situation, if we want to burn the amount of wood required to keep the house at 70 degrees? We have a high efficiency Rais stove that almost overheats the house.

  15. #15 risa b
    January 22, 2010

    And! it’s always ok to just sit out front and watch the sunset.

  16. #16 Interrobang
    January 22, 2010

    It’s a shame so many of these suggestions smack so stenchily of able-bodied privilege. Most of the suggestions on this list are simply unworkable if you have a disability or chronic illness.

    A friend of mine, who had two life-threatening GI C. diff infections, would be literally risking his life if he stopped using a refrigerator.

    Because of the nature of my disability, I can’t cope with an internal temperature of less than about 70F, because my muscles seize up and my joints ache, regardless of how I’m dressed. I also have motor control issues and limited energy reserves (the latter a common complaint for most disabled people, so there goes a lot of things where you’re replacing electricity with human labour), so I’m sure as hell not going to be coppicing trees for firewood (Interrobang does not play well with sharp things) or making any more goddamn trips to the laundromat, because hauling even one garbage bag’s worth of clothes six blocks damn near kills me. Never mind if the cat pukes or my nose explodes on my duvet again.

    Another friend of mine would love to go off the grid, but would then need a genny to power her CPAP machine.

    I don’t even really want to know what you’d suggest for those of us who have to use electrically-powered wheelchairs…

  17. #17 Prometheus
    January 22, 2010

    #16 Interrobang

    “I don’t even really want to know what you’d suggest for those of us who have to use electrically-powered wheelchairs…”

    A little thing called commitment.

    My entire family lives in a small hole we dug out of the side of a hill. We keep warm via the decomposition of our own midden heap. The children will occasionally eat a cave cricket but we are encouraging them to adopt the raw fungarian murder free life choice.

    Hell a few more generations of this and all our eyes and limbs will be vestigial. Think of the energy savings!

    Seriously, this has become the silliest game of oneupsmanship I have ever read.

  18. #18 Tony Weddle
    January 23, 2010

    Mmm. At first, I thought this is bit hypocritical of Sharon. She says she doesn’t use a refrigerator and then says … well, she does in summer, when it’s hot (but only for one thing and, in winter, it’s like a fridge outside so that’s what she uses and, by the way, she also has a freezer, but only for “professional” reasons, so that’s alright then).

    However, she makes a very good suggestion about powering off for one day a week, at first. That’s a good way to ease yourself into a sustainable lifestyle. It’s something I’m going to try to get my family to agree to.

  19. #19 Rose
    January 23, 2010

    A year ago our clothes dryer went kaput..I thoughy, ok, it’s spring and then a hot summer (a la New Mexico) and then by then I’ll figure some way to get a dryer. Not. I have a wooden floor dryer that was in garage in summer and now in kitchen. Everything drys wonderfully ‘cept the towels..those I do miss a dryer for but not enough to by one now! Once in awhile a sheet will not be completely dry do to reall cold in the gargae and just bring it in in the mornign and let it dry under the heating vents (in ceiling). So with the budget plan through our utility company and the considerally less gas used for drying I listing with a secret smugness(sorry..not nice but true) when I hear my neighbors bewail ther heating bills. Next? a solar oven..onward and upward.

  20. #20 Rob
    January 23, 2010

    Refrigeration has saved millions and millions of lives by preventing the spoilage of perishable food. Can you live solely on non-perishable foods? Only freshly purchased or preserved vegetables and fruits? Buy milk, butter, and eggs every day?

  21. #21 billygroats
    January 23, 2010

    As usual, the caveats at the beginning, that these are *suggestions* and that not everything will work for everyone, have been ignored.

    One of the most pointless impediments to progress is the idea that, “If it doesn’t work for ME, it doesn’t work!”

    Personally, I’m glad that you-all have decided to use less, that leaves more for me! (snark)

    However, what if that were true? What if I decided, “Well, all these folks using less heating oil has decreased demand, therefore the price has go down – making it easier for me to buy and use more!” What would you-all do then?

    I ask, because that is what will happen (until Peak Oil comes true and the supply decreases faster than the demand can decrease). If some large segment of the population chooses to use less of some resource or many resources, the price will go down, spurring more demand, until the price goes back up to the equilibrium point.

    This is why I say that if you wish to decrease your own consumption – you should do so BECAUSE YOU WISH IT. You will not be able to rely on any call to “fairness” or “selflessness” or any higher motives. Those motives may be fine for YOU, but there is no reason others will feel the same way. While you’re shivering in self-satisfaction, the rest of us will be dancing around our 90 deg houses in our underwear, pretending we’re on the beach at Carmel.

    What will you do then? Try and pass a law that says no one can heat their homes above 61? You’ll have to carve out exceptions for the invalids and the ill, of course, so many otherwise hale folks will get their docs to sign off on them being allowed the exception. Then what? How much time and energy and money would be needed to devote to policing against home heating exceptions fraud?

    I don’t really believe that such a thing will come to pass. What is more likely is that the demand for fossil fuels will outstrip the supply. We will readjust our society to use less ff and replace the functionality with other energy sources – and retool our economies to run on those sources. While we are making the transition, Sharon and others who have made the changes early, will suffer less than those who did not and those who cannot.

    After it’s over, the survivors will sit around, talking about all they suffered through and how kids these days have it easy, like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen.

  22. #22 billygroats
    January 23, 2010

    “Can you live solely on non-perishable foods? Only freshly purchased or preserved vegetables and fruits? Buy milk, butter, and eggs every day?”

    Yes. People did it for the first few hundred thousand years we were around, and many people in the 21st Century still do.

  23. #23 Tree
    January 23, 2010

    Well, I think any rationing of heating oil will be just that: Rationing. Each house will get a limited amount. I Do think that may be a long way away and it’s more likely prices will determine useage- which is why a few of us are going ahead and using less now. (The big bank bailouts and enermous debt preclude much subsidising of oil in the future, I think. Gov’t has made it’s choice plain and that is to let the poorest among us suffer)

    My number one reason to conserve energy is to save money. We’re just getting by. Barely.
    Troubling to watch this nation go into a downward spiral like this, but I don’t see things improving for the majority and expect more to be in financial difficulty as time goes on. I haven’t seen anything to contradict my/our predictions of a depression looming in the future.

    Luck,
    Tree

  24. #24 Tony Weddle
    January 24, 2010

    We will readjust our society to use less ff and replace the functionality with other energy sources – and retool our economies to run on those sources.

    Although the rest of his post suggests that billygoats doesn’t really believe this piece of what he wrote, it’s still worth pointing out that this is a finite planet with finite resources and with a finite ability to render our pollution harmless. The notion that society can be simply retooled (or even retooled with difficulty) with different energy sources is absurd. Unsustainable behaviour can’t be sustained by switching to another energy source.

    Yes, present societies will go through a transition but will come out utterly transformed. The transition will be traumatic and very damaging because most people act, and will continue to act until it is too late, as though there were no limits.

  25. #25 Lora
    January 24, 2010

    @Prometheus: Think of it more like a Weight Watchers meeting. No one else gives a rat’s ass, or can tell, that you lost five pounds, but YOU care and your buddies who know how hard it is, care. It’s not a game of one-up-man-ship so much as a UU-style Sharing And Caring session.

    @Rob: Um…you do know that most apartments in Asia lack refrigerators, right? Also that fresh eggs will keep out on the countertop for about three months before spoiling, and butter keeps for a good month in a “butter keeper” (jar packed full and inverted in a dish of water to exclude oxygen) at room temp? And, I should clarify, in this example, “room temp” = ~65F. I agree that refrigeration is lifesaving when it comes to things like transporting vaccines overseas, though–and yet that is also a burden, because it makes transporting vaccines to, say, developing countries on the back of a Land Rover for a few days, really impossible. There’s no incentive to make a formulation that is shelf-stable in heat, because the only countries that can pay market price have refrigeration. Cuts both ways.

  26. #26 Rob
    January 24, 2010

    billygroats: yes, and millions of people died from food-born illnesses, nearly all of which are now minimally relevant because of refrigeration.

  27. #27 Sharon Astyk
    January 24, 2010

    Interrobang, I don’t know how many “everything won’t work for every person” caveats I can include ;-). It is true that some people for reasons of health, age or disability won’t be able to do these things, but it is actually thus even more important that those of us who don’t have your excuse do do them, because after all, in a world of unconstrained climate change, the disabled are seriously screwed. The same would be true of a world of actual energy depletion. My autistic child, for example, uses more resources than the rest of us – he gets bussed to a special school, he is not toilet trained so he uses plastic disposable diapers (legally we can’t use cloth at school) – but that makes it all the more urgent that the rest of us do what we can. But I’ve learned that no matter how many caveats as above I include, some people won’t read them ;-).

    Rob, refrigeration is only one way to preserve food and prevent bacterial growth. The good thing is that turning off your refrigerator doesn’t automatically turn your brain into that of an 18th century person ;-), so we still know how to carefully manage food to keep it from spoiling or spreading illness. You certainly don’t have to replace your butter and eggs every day, though.

    Tony, you are right, I’m not a complete purist. We don’t actually use a fridge in the summer, we use an icebox – it happens to *be* a fridge that we’ve transformed, but it does provide cooling for food. As for the freezer, you are right – it is a bit of cop out. The problem is that we sell meat from our farm to a few hundred people every year, and what I’ve found is that you can’t count on all of them to show up when they say they will show up to pick up their meat. So rather than throw rotting poultry away and try and get people who had me kill a chicken (or a bunch of them) on their behalf to pay me for the dead chicken that they allowed to rot in the sun, we got a freezer – it is the smallest and most efficient one we can get away with, but it is still a freezer. The advantage of this is that a chest freezer uses several hundred kwh less than a fridge would, so it still make a fairly huge dent in our electricity.

    Sharon

  28. #28 annette
    January 24, 2010

    on the question of buying eggs every day – I can tell you from personal experience, living on a boat with almost no refrigeration in Mexico, eggs will keep for at least a week in even the hottest weather – summers in the Sea of Cortez, temperatures in the high 90′s or 100′s every single day. In winter – and I mean Mexican winter – temps in the 70′s or low 80′s in the daytime, maybe down to the 50′s at night – you can keep eggs for a month – AS LONG AS THEY’VE NEVER BEEN REFRIGERATED. I don’t know the scientific explanation for this, but if eggs have been refrigerated and then you leave them out on the counter, they will go bad much faster than never-refrigerated eggs.

  29. #29 Marion Delgado
    January 24, 2010

    The urban legends being spread on the net by people like Brad K. have a very deleterious effect on the environment, long-term. Basically, they’re the same old racist “they’re outbreeding us” trope that’s been used since birth control was first proposed as a mass policy.

    In this case, this is a standardized, fact-free talking point being disseminated by anti-Islamic rightists, but it simply replaces the fertile mud-people immigrants xxx in a templated trope.

    To get a handle on the reality:

    http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/muslim-demographics/

    Worse than simply being misinformation that helps feed into right-wing fears about birth control (and religious traditionalists’ belief that it’s sinful or excessively secular), it causes an arms race of birth-rates.

  30. #30 Moopheus
    January 25, 2010

    Riding a bike in traffic isn’t that hard–you get used to it pretty fast, and it’s reasonably safe if you stay alert and follow a few basic rules. In fact, the “safe” places to ride–bike paths and the like–are not necessarily safer than the streets. A lot of serious accidents happen on them, in part because they are crowded with low-skill riders.

    No-knead bread is for pussies. Kneading dough isn’t that hard.

  31. #31 Tree
    January 25, 2010

    @ Moopheus,

    Riding a bike in traffic safe? I’ve been run off the road…..TWICE!!

    The term ‘pussies’ is offensive to some people. Do you even know what it means?

  32. #32 Moopheus
    January 25, 2010

    I said “reasonably” safe. Accidents happen. Drivers can be assholes. There are no completely safe places to ride. You caren’t completely safe in a car, either. There are some roads you are better off avoiding on a bike. You can be afraid or you can take the streets. Your choice.

    Obviously I was referring to people who are weak like little kittens. What were you thinking?

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