Riot for Austerity – project to reduce our footprint by 90%

Collapsed Cities

Sep 8, 2009 by Asphyxia

Collapsed Cities

As I mentioned in my previous entry, i can’t help but worry about where we are heading. I believe absolutely in the collapse of civilisation. If you search on google for Peak Oil or other similar topics there are all sorts of articles to read about how unsustainably we are living, and how with an economy so utterly dependent on fossil fuels, when they become too expensive, we are going to freak out, big time. Everything I read does seem to make sense… but a part of me wonders if these articles are written by doom and gloom quacks – and gun-toting dudes who can’t wait to hide in their cellar with their packs of dehydrated survival food.

What assures me that the collapse of civilisation is so likely though, is a book called The Future Eaters, by Tim Flannery. Without making any projections about what’s going to happen to us, he simply describes community after community of human groups who make the same fatal mistakes. It goes like this. Humans head to a new frontier, a new piece of land, perhaps an island, and find it rich with bounty – lush plants, tame animals that are easy to catch and delicious to eat… The person who finds the place goes home to get their people, and then they arrive and populate. With the vast amount of resources available, the people, rather than living carefully and sustainably, invariably go for gluttony. They kill the animals with abandon, eating only the very best bits and wasting the rest. They damage the environment ruthlessly without regard for the future. This is the golden age. It’s marvellous. Wonderful things happen in this place of leisure – there is art, music, culture. Then the resources, being unsustainable, begin to dwindle. With the increased difficulty in accessing food/water/shelter, the people begin to fight over what’s left. They destroy everything – the art, the culture. They battle hard and ruthlessly. Eventually they die, or they find another island and head there. Sometimes a few people are left, scrounging together a living from the last remaining resources.

Easter Island was a classic case – and it was a special one because rather than relying on fossilised evidence to understand the rise and fall of civilisation, its demise was recorded by explorers who visited first during the golden age, and again not that many years later to find the place completely destroyed. Tim Flannery believes Australia was once a rich and green land, full of exquisite rain forests and enormous mammals. When the Aborigines arrived, like all other groups, they plundered hard, killed all the animals. Without the animals to keep the forest in check, it grew wildly, leading to vicious bushfires. The change in vegetation affected the rainfall, which became sparse. The surviving groups of Aborigines were one of the few groups ever to work out how to then live sustainably on the land. They learnt to keep the fires in check with controlled burning to replace the animals. They learnt to hunt sustainably by having sacred places that humans were forbidden to enter, providing a sanctuary in which animals could live and breed. Now of course, we have gone and ruined it.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that we are in the golden age. Resources ARE dwindling. But what’s next? It seems collapse is inevitable. The true questions in my mind are a) when will it happen – how much longer will we live like this? I’ve read predictions that the collapse could happen any time six months from now to two years from now. But no-one knows for sure, and how could they? And b) how fast will it happen? Some believe once the collapse occurs things spiral out of control incredibly quickly, giving us precious little time to adapt and make new plans. Others believe there’s the possibility for a long, slow descent, nice and peaceful.

Tim Flannery’s stories of past collapses suggest though it’s most unlikely to be peaceful, and I am not banking on that. No – I’m not about to get myself a gun. But I’m constantly tormented by a sense that I need to do something, set some plans in place NOW while it’s easy, while we still have the resources to do so, and while money will still buy what we need. And yet, at the same time, it feels quite frankly surreal to be fretting about the collapse of civilisation when no-one around me seems to have even considered the possibility (it’s a guaranteed conversation stopper so I’ve pretty much stopped bringing it up with people I know), and when our lives are so deeply entrenched in this golden age.

Our work involves flying around the globe to do something joyful but not even slightly essential – it would have to be defined as a waste of resources if we are talking in terms of our civilisation collapsing.

And I’m not bored yet with the Jamie Oliver-style-notebook-journal-entry. I’m loving this kind of page.



Depletion and Abundance

Sep 22, 2009 by Asphyxia

Depletion and Abundance

Have you read this book? Depletion and Abundance by Sharon Astyk. I ordered it from the net and had no idea what I was getting. Wow was I ever in for a treat! It’s amazing. The book is about what we should do and how we should live our lives in the face of dwindling resources and looming climate change.

I was expecting a homestead type of book – how to live without a fridge, that kind of thing. But it’s not really a hands on how-to book. It’s a big picture book about the choices we make, why, and how we can change ourselves to live in a more ethical way. This is the first book I’ve read that really looks at the big picture of every aspect of our lifestyle, and Sharon provides highly compelling arguments for the ways in which we need to adjust our thinking and our focus.

The premise of it all is that we should aim to take only our fair share of resources, emit only our fair share of emissions. By doing this we will no longer be stealing from those in developing countries who can’t afford to live the way we do, and we will no longer be stealing resources from our children and grandchildren. Instead we should work towards making our slice of the planet the best and most abundant place it should be.

With her description of a day in the life of a household (Sharon and her family) that takes only their fair share, she provides a very convincing picture that not only is it possible, but it could even lead us to a nicer and more satisfying life than the one we have now. Sharon has got me convinced, anyway. I found the book really inspiring, and it’s encouraging me to look at things about myself that need work, such as the need to be more generous and learn to share better.

One of the things that really impressed me about the book is that rather than disregarding the kind of work we do to earn a living, when considering our environmental impact, Sharon says we need to look long and hard at the kind of work we do. Is it sustainable? Is it likely to last a long time? Is it fundamentally pointless or is it good work that is helping other people and our planet? (I would rate my brief and long ago time working as a software engineer for Tattersalls and pointless, and my work with The Grimstones as being valuable and important but not even slightly sustainable.) She’s got me thinking hard about my work with The Grimstones. There are so many good things about it but I’m also exhausted from all the touring and being on the road so much makes it really hard to maintain the home and garden I want to have. Our chooks have gone to live with my mum and their absence feels like a failure on our part. We’ll bring them home after our Sept tour, but it is still a few months without our beloved chooks and the eggs we love so much.

The most important thing we can do for our planet, apparently, is grow our own food, even if it’s just a box of sprouts on the windowsill. Every tiny bit counts. I’m thinking of my garden again…. so hard to keep it watered and happy when we spend so much time away. But maybe with a bit more focus I can improve things a bit.



Riot for Austerity Update

Jan 1, 2010 by Asphyxia

Happy New Year everyone.. I hope 2010 turns out to be a fruitful, happy and peaceful one 🙂

Once again it’s time for my riot for austerity calculations… here’s my total of what we’ve used in December.

Target is 10% of the US national average for each category, or less.

Transportation fuel – I’ve used 7% – same as last month.
Electricity – 9%, up from 7% last month
Gas/Kero for cooking and heating – 22% – last month it was 13%
Rubbish – 2% – last month it was 3%
Water – 13% – last month it was 16%
Consumer Goods – 26%
Food – I’m aiming for 75% local sustainable/homegrown produce, and now we’re on 74%
– Aiming for 25% bulk/dry goods, all organic, and we bought 6%
– Aiming for just 5% “wet goods” ie meat, milk, processed food, conventional produce, and we bought 20%.

Now for some comments on each category…

Transport – I’m rapt that we are still under target – all the bike riding is helping. I didn’t count a trip Paula and Jesse took to Barwon Heads though – I didn’t want to go and wouldn’t have chosen it. Paula isn’t rioting and so it’s her choice.

Electricity – We are under target, which is great. We are up slightly because I inherited a vacola bottling kit and have been preserving food for winter. I’ve also run the dehydrator a bit.

Gas/Kero – We couldn’t maintain our low usage from last month because we were working too hard to fire up the rocket stove much. Using the rocket stove makes a big dent on our gas use, but we have to actually be home and have enough energy, which has been very short on supply this month.

Rubbish – Our rubbish use is low – yay.

Water – I am rapt that we have got so low with water use. Thanks to a weekly rain that kept my tank topped up and my plants happy, I was able to do most of my garden watering from the tank. I’ve also done a fair bit of hand dishwashing and clothes washing which has helped us reduce our usage.

Consumer goods – December is a tricky month as for goods as both Paula’s birthday and Christmas come at once. I didn’t want to skimp too much on presents for Paula, and we also bought a few Christmas presents for Jesse. Both of them got plenty of handmade presents too.

Food – We are really getting closer to our local-produce target now, and starting to get the hang of shopping at the farmer’s market, though we still tend to have a week of abundance, foodwise, and then a week of not-enough fruit etc.

Here’s what I’ve done this month:

Washed many loads of dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher
Preserved food for winter – plums, nectarines, peaches, and apricots.
Replenished my newspaper squares system that replaces kitchen paper.
Stored some food in sand boxes instead of in the fridge.
Lots and lots of gardening – watering, tying up tomatoes, protecting plants from hot weather, planting seeds, planting out seedlings, harvesting….

Gas and consumer goods are the main areas that I need to improve. I think consumer goods will even out as a) riot-related purchases drop off, b) we are over the big expenditure parts of the year – ie Jesse’s birthday, Paula’s birthday and Christmas. To reduce gas usage I’m not sure. Maybe we need to experiment with a hay-box cooker for stock, rice etc. My solar oven really isn’t working well enough to use – but I’m reluctant to buy a commercial one without know if it will actually work for us. We need a bit more time and energy to maintain our rocket stove usage, but we are heading into another rehearsal intensive and I don’t think we’ll have much spare.

For January, I’m focusing on changes that involve changes to the construction of our home, and have lined up a handyman to do a heap of work. He will:
Install our new 40,000 litre water tank
Install double glazing on all our windows
Replace our skylights with proper double glazed panels, complete with blinds so we can block heat and light
Rejig our greywater system so that we can collect water easily from our sinks, shower, bath, washing machine etc. We should get heaps more for the garden this way.
Build a couple of new garden beds for me.
Work with me to make the candle-chandelier out of scrap metal.

I’m also looking into solar heating for winter and this may become part of the January-plan.

New Year’s Resolutions
Normally I go to town on resolutions – I really like them, and stick to them. This year I don’t want to make any new ones. I’ll just continue with what I’m working on now, which include this riot for austerity, homeschooling my boy, finding a balance between work and my personal life…

What about you? Yes, those of you reading this post – do you have any resolutions to help change the way you live so that you make a lighter footprint? Can I tempt you to join me with the riot for austerity? You don’t need to aim for 10% – just aim for a reduction in some categories…



Depletion and Abundance – A Summary

Jun 22, 2014 by Asphyxia

Depletion and Abundance - A Summary

Whenever I read a book that really affects me or has a lot of information for me to soak in, I like to make notes, write my own summary of the book. Usually my summaries are big documents, but this time I wanted to get it down into a single page in my journal. It’s a chapter by chapter summary of the key points in Depletion and Abudance (well, the ones that hit home to me most anyway, another reader might have a different experience).



Riot For Austerity

Oct 3, 2009 by Asphyxia

Riot For Austerity

Ok, it’s official – I’m joining the Riot For Austerity.

This is what it’s all about:

The aim is to cut your emissions and use of resources by 90% of what the average American uses.  Apparently if we all did this, there’d be enough of everything to go around, and we could avert the worse of what’s in front of us with climate change.  The basic idea is that even though we CAN take more, we choose to only take our fair share of everything, so that we leave our kids and grandkids with a better world, a better future.  Sharon Astyk joined with several hundred others to prove that ordinary people like us really can live on 10% of the average amount of resources, and that by doing so we also, in many ways, end up with a much nicer life.

Sharon et al have made it easy for us by calculating exactly what is our fair share in every category – water, rubbish, petrol, gas, electricity and food.  I used their calculator to work out what I’m currently consuming.  Some of what I’ve got here is a rough estimate – I’m still calculating actual usage to be sure.

Target is 10% for each category.

Transporation fuel – I’ve used 12% of the US national average.

Electricity – 9% of the US national average – YIPPEE

Gas/Kero for cooking and heating – 23% of the US national average

Rubbish – 7% of the US national average – YAY I’M AHEAD

Water – 24% of the US national average.

Consumer Goods – 30% (I really have no idea if this is accurate or not.

Food – I’m aiming for 75% local sustainable/homegrown produce, and I reckon we’re on about 30%

          – Aiming for 25% bulk/dry goods, all organic, and I think we’re on target for this one

          – Aiming for just 5% “wet goods” ie meat, milk, processed food, conventional produce, but I’m guessing we use 45%

Now for some comments on each category…

Transportation.  I cheated – I only counted what we use when we’re in Melbourne.  We’ve worked really hard to cut our car use, learn to ride bikes and catch PT and live local – I’m proud of us.  BUT for my work, to perform The Grimstones, we tour so much.  Just this year we have flown to Italy/France, to Darwin, Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide, and we have driven also to Adelaide, to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to NSW and to several places in Vic.  Our work use of resources is terrible in this regard.  If I focus on that it means I need to give up The Grimstones in order to succeed.  So – give up The Grimstones or abandon the idea of the riot?  I’m thinking the riot will take me steps in the right direction, as is worth persuing.  For now I will focus on our home usage, and I will count our work usage as separate.

Electricty – no cheating here.  But I still reckon we can get it down further.  And we are having new solar panels installed soon, and regardless of what the Riot For Austerity target is for Electricity, my personal target will be to see if we can only use what we generate.

Gas and Kero – Even though we are way under what the average American uses (and probably average Australian), I feel a bit unhappy to be so out of target, without a foreseeable way to cut back.  Kero we would be very hard pressed to use less during winter as it’s for heating, but long term goal is to double glaze our windows, which might help.  The other option is toughening up and being colder.  Yikes.  We use gas to cook and to heat our hot water.  Since we cook just about all our food from scratch, we use the stove and oven a lot, often for long stretches to make big pots of stock etc.  I don’t want to reduce how much we cook.  At this stage a woodstove doesn’t seem viable for us, living in inner city, but I will think about it more.  The rest of the gas is for hot water.  Right now we have one bath a day, with a few inches of water in it, and all three of us tend to share it.  Then the water goes on the garden.  We don’t want to have less baths because our vegies desperately need the water.  Due to legal situation here with incredible water restrictions, we are not allowed to put freshwater on the garden except for two tiny stingy measly sessions a week at ungodly hours.  However we can put as much bath-water on the garden as we like.  I could disobey the law – would anyone know?  But it is truly the biggest treat and luxury to enjoy that water first by having a soak in it.  And that’s where the gas comes in – to heat it.  We do have solar hot water, but it doesn’t work very well.  It does mean we don’t use as much gas compared to if we didn’t have it.

Water – due to the legal situation I mentioned, we need to use our water in the house in order to put it on the garden.  I think if you didn’t count the bath/vegie water, we would be well under the limit for water usage.  We don’t have to count irrigation water for the Riot though because growing your own food always means less water is used to produce it.  We get low produce yields most years, I think because we are too stingy with water.  This year I’m going to try being a bit more generous and see if that helps.  A longer term plan is to somehow get the water from the washing machine and dishwasher out onto the garden too.

Rubbish – well isn’t it nice to be ahead of target?  I still wince at all the plastic that goes into our rubbish bags, and I wince at the fact that we use plastic bags for rubbish, but Paula is really not open to another solution here.  The low rubbish production is a happy result of the fact that we cook all our food from scratch and don’t buy processed foods.

Consumer goods – this one really needs work.  Well I’m assuming so, but I haven’t calculated it accurately so 30% is a guess.  Still, with a budget of $1000 every year we would be hard pressed to cover the stuff we like to buy.  Say we spent $400 on household goods (think toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo, gardening tools, peatmoss for our composting toilet etc), then we’d have $200 to spend on each person for clothes, toys, books, homeschool etc.  We spend way more than that on Jesse – probably $400 a year on clothes because I’m a sucker and like to dress him like a doll, and another $300 on toys and homeschool materials.  I could probably buy the books I like and occasional clothes in my $200 allotment but I do have a bit of a taste for unfortunately expensive things – a computer which tends to die every three years from overuse, Birkenstock shoes every couple of years to replace those that have worn out, last year I bought a thermomix which was unbelievably expensive.  Paula doesn’t buy that much stuff but when she does buy new clothes sometimes they are pretty expensive, and I bet her goods go over $200 a year too.  The problem with the $$ method of calculating this is that it encourages us to focus on cheap stuff, and most of the cheapest stuff we would buy is made in nasty sweatshops overseas and/or shipped here from China.  Paula and I both buy a few expensive pieces of clothing made by local Australian artists, and frankly I think that’s a far better way to spend the money if you can afford it.  Also this year we are finally getting paid for 2 years of unpaid work, and we’ve got some home renovations in the works.  Some of them will help Riot goals like a new water tank.  But building an extra room is probably not a Riot goal – it’s a luxury.

Food.  We shop in a way that is fairly Riot-friendly and we only step into a supermarket very occasionally.  We stock up on bulk goods every now and then, and I reckon it’s about 25%.  They’re all organic.  Paula goes to the Vic Market and buys organic fresh food, mostly in season, every week.  They don’t publish food miles though so it’s hard to know which items are truly local (I’m counting within 200km) and which comes from further away.  The 5% of “wet goods” that we are aiming for doesn’t feel very achievable right now.  We get raw milk from 320km away (it’s nearly local, right? though we have just discovered another brand that’s from 235km away), meat and fish from god knows where (gotta find out more about this), the best quality butter from Queensland, and I mail order quite a few wholefood supplements such as cod liver oil, B.E.Grainfield liquid, Swedish bitters and more.  I notice the riot guideline that health is not counted, cos they don’t want anyone getting sick or not looking after their health for doing this.  The things I take/eat for my health are the things that mean I don’t need to buy medicines and other health products I used to spend a lot of money on.  If you look at it in this way, then I wouldn’t count raw milk, raw meat, bones for stock, butter from Queensland, cod liver oil or the other supplements as part of my 5% wet goods.  They’d be health items.  And if you looked at it that way, I reckon getting down to 5% would be quite achieveable for me.  Is that cheating?  I suspect my entire ramblings here are descriptions of how I plan to cheat.  Here’s what I plan to actually DO to improve our food situation to make it more sustainable:

– focus on our vegie garden this year, especially on making sure I harvest all the produce we possibly can and don’t waste any.  Part of this means eating from the garden as much as possible BEFORE going shopping.

– find out more about which foods are truly local at Ceres and Vic Market and buy them instead of stuff that comes from further away

– buy extra local produce that is in season and preserve it for later in the year – ie dry my own fruit, dry extra vegies, make chutneys and fermented foods, try making vinegar.

– look into raising our own chickens and rabbits for meat/stock – this is a longer term plan as I am TOTALLY squeamish about it.

Well, that’s where we’re at.  Can I convince you to join me?  You’re allowed to join even if you think you won’t make the targets – everyone doing as best they can will be a big step in the right direction.  So please, pretty please, I need a riot buddy or several – send me an email or comment here to tell me what you’ll do!



I am rioting!

 Oct 17, 2009 by Asphyxia

I am rioting

I’ve made some changes, most of them fairly small and simple ones, to inch me towards the riot. This is what I’ve been doing:

– I’m trying to reduce my use of household consumables (think toilet paper, tissues, kitchen paper, glad wrap, foil, batteries etc)… some of these are pretty tricky for me but I’ve dramatically cut down how much toilet paper I use, and I’ve sewed some hankies for myself out of an old pretty sheet, and aside from when I had a cold and couldn’t bear them, I’ve been using them instead of tissues. I’m finding new ways to package the things I usually wrap in gladwrap, and I haven’t touched foil or kitchen paper since I started the riot.

– I’ve been keeping our electricity usage low by switching off appliances when not in use, and only turning on our wireless internet when I’m actually having an internet session. It’s now off, the rest of the time, rather than switched on 24/7. When I’m not too tired I wash the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher.

– When we go to a restaurant, before we leave the house I grab a plastic container in case we have leftovers, and a face washer to wipe my hands on. I’ve also been bringing a face washer in my bag to the theatre so I can dry my hands and face on that instead of using paper towel. Last night I went to a BBQ and had the foresight to realise paper plates and plastic cutlery would probably be in use. I packed a bag with a plate, some metal cutlery, and a face washer as well as my contribution to the BBQ.

– Last week I rode my bike to pick up our raw milk – it’s a few kilometres and I found it a bit of a challenge to balance my bike and get all that milk home. But I did it! It took 45 mins for the round trip, and when I got home I felt I’d had a good workout. I sat down to do a few hours of admin and found I was so warm I wasn’t longing for the heater.

– I’m really trying to use the heater less. When we put it on, it’s for a much shorter time, and I’m trying to move around to warm up if possible instead, or use a hot water bottle. But sometimes, like this morning, I just feel cold in my bones and put it on for an hour or two. We use a kero heater and it needs to be refilled quite often. We are going much longer between refills so something is changing.

– The last two weeks I have done our shopping by bike. We rode to Ceres market and brought home mostly (though not all) local produce. We rode, for the first time, to the farmer’s market at Collingwood Children’s Farm, and discovered lots of local produce that we haven’t been able to find elsewhere. This is going to be our new place to shop, though it’s fortnightly and will take a bit of working out to see how we can bring home enough basics to last us through two weeks, on our bikes. Hmm. We don’t have a trailer, and I’m not ready to invest in one – hell, I’m not even sure I’ve got the strength to pull it! But Paula says if I take her bike to the bike shop for her and ask them to put on a rack, she’ll pedal home a boxful herself. Maybe I’ll do that today…

– I’m eating a few less bananas (which come from Queensland) and a few more apples (which are local and in season) and focussing on food choices that are more local. I’ve been sweetening with honey rather than my preferred maple syrup, knowing that I can buy honey from Ceres bees and ride it home (zero food miles) which is a better choice than syrup flown here from Canada.

– And the other change, which I wrote about in my last post, is my lovely routine of getting into the garden each day, bringing in a handful or armful of goodies and tending my baby plants.

I’ve also been keeping myself out of shops. Don’t go shopping and temptation is less likely to bite, eh?

And now a question for those of you reading this post.. what are you doing? Leave me a comment with a list of little things, no matter how small – we could all inspire each other!



Riot for Austerity Update

Dec 1, 2009 by Asphyxia

riot n

It’s the start of December and time to calculate my riot for austerity totals for November.

Target is 10% for each category.

Transportation fuel – I’ve used 7% of the US national average – last month it was 14%.
Electricity – 7% of the US national average – last month it was 5%
Gas/Kero for cooking and heating – 13% of the US national average – last month it was 21%
Rubbish – 4% of the US national average – last month it was 3%
Water – 16% of the US national average – last month it was 15%
Consumer Goods – 35% or 8% depending on what I count
Food – I’m aiming for 75% local sustainable/homegrown produce, and now we’re on 67%
– Aiming for 25% bulk/dry goods, all organic, and we bought 9%
– Aiming for just 5% “wet goods” ie meat, milk, processed food, conventional produce, and we bought 24%.

Now for some comments on each category…

Transport – I bought a bike trailer which has eliminated a few car trips already. I also caught the train a few times when I would ordinarily have driven, and I’ve been working on replacing all my local trips to bike trips as much as possible. I’m definitely getting fitter and less afraid of travelling that bit further on my bike.

Electricity – Our usage is up slightly because our composting toilet is working again, and also because we have changed to solar (I counted 50% of our usage as solar whereas last time it was all wind) and Riot rules value wind over solar. Still – we’re way under target and I’m happy. I haven’t been using the washing machine or dishwasher – instead doing all by hand, and have ditched 3 appliances that used to run 24/7.

Gas/Kero – The cooking we’ve done on our rocket stove has been great with reducing our gas use. Also due to incredible heat wave we’ve had far fewer baths as it’s just too hot to sit in our loft in that weather!

Rubbish – Our rubbish use is still low but up slightly because Paula has been cleaning out a shed and ditching lots of stuff.

Water – I can’t believe we’re as low as 16% considering how much water my garden has been drinking. Our tank ran out and I had to water with mains water. But this has been offset by a) all the hand clothes and dish washing I’ve been doing which saves heaps of water and b) the fact that we’ve had a week of rain which has refilled the tank and means I haven’t had to water the garden. If we didn’t count garden water I think our usage might even be on target, or close. Water use for December should be low as our tank is full again.

Consumer goods – with the change of season we bought Jesse a few clothes. I also bought a few things to aid the riot like the bike trailer, some bits to help me make the solar oven, the camp oven so we can roast on the rocket stove, and some bike-safety equiment (including a new bike light as mine was stolen.. grr). According to riot rules we don’t need to count health purchases, in which case we can disregard the sun-protection swim top I bought Jesse (I wouldn’t have bought it if not for health reasons). If you don’t count the riot purchases or sun top, our expenditure is 8% which I’m very happy with. The riot purchases are mostly one offs and since I’m just getting started I’m expecting a few more of these, and once I’ve changed enough systems they’ll probably taper off. I’m doing my best to get everything second hand if possible, or make items myself if I can.

Food – not much has changed since last month, numbers-wise, but we are definitely shifting towards more local food and eating. 22% came from my garden/neighbourhood which I’m very pleased with – the numbers are creeping up. If Paula hadn’t gone to Vic Market and bought up rather bigger than I would have, then we’d be much closer to target. Oh well.. we’ll keep trying. BTW “local” for us means within Victoria but as much as possible we buy stuff from very close to home.

Here’s what I’ve done this month:
Made a rocket stove
Made some candles
Made a solar oven that doesn’t really work well enough to use
Set up cloth toilet paper (for wees only) system that is working well
Got a rack for Jesse’s bike, bike safety vest for me, made one for Jesse, and panniers for Paula’s bike
Done all my clothes washing by hand (takes an hour once a week – and weirdly I don’t even mind doing it)
Washed many loads of dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher
Made dishcloths from my old socks
Cut squares of newspaper and suspended from a string in the kitchen to use to wipe grease off things so I don’t use kitchen paper
Preserved some food for winter – dried apples, dried mulberries, mulberry jam, bottled cherries, vinegar…

I failed at the no plastic bags in the fridge mission. Paula wasn’t having a bar of it. I’ve given up on that one for now.

For December I am not planning too many more big changes as a) I am getting back to work and will have a lot less time, and b) I’m pretty satisfied with where we are at right now and want to focus on maintaining these new habits. Basically I consider we are “there” riot-wise in all categories but food and gas, and both of those categories are close. However, this is what I’m working on:

Experiment with storing food out of the fridge – I’ve got a box of damp sand with vegies in it right now, to see how well they keep. I tried greens in a glass jar but Paula was unhappy with their progress and banished them back to the fridge. I’ve got this idea that we could turn off our back fridge and just use the tiny bar fridge we have in the house. We don’t really need to for the riot as our electricity use is under target, but I would really like to know how to live without a fridge and it would give me such a sense of freedom if we could manage it.

Work on building a root cellar – I’ve done some swapping with Paula to get her help with this one as she is the digger in our household…

Look into double glazing for our windows in preparation for winter that uses much less kero than we used to.

Also in the same vein investigate the possibility of a homemade indoor rocket stove/oven that we could use in winter to cook and heat the house in one go. I’ve seen a design but am not sure I can build it and don’t know where to put it – our house is tiny.

Organise everything for our new enormous water tank so it’s ready to install at the start of January. While David is here installing it, I’ll get him to make some changes to our plumbing so the washing machine and dishwasher water can be put on our garden too – we only use very gentle detergents.

Try making bleach and my own laundry soap – if I get time. I can make these, apparently, with ashes from the rocket stove and fat we scrape off food that we’d normally discard.

Other than that, it’s more of the same: keep dishwashing and clothes washing by hand, keep buying local food and learning to do without out-of-season produce, keep up with my garden, keep on riding everywhere I possibly can and stay out of the car, and make all Christmas gifts in a way that doesn’t involve any buying.

And for those of you reading this post, what are you doing? Please leave me a comment with your latest.. 🙂



Riot 6 month update

Mar 27, 2010 by Asphyxia

I’ve been participating in the Riot for Austerity for 6 months now – with the aim of reducing my use of resources to 10% of the average. Mostly I’m using US averages since I don’t know Australian averages. I can’t believe half a year has gone by. I can see now as the months pass the new habits I’ve been trying to create have settled in and are becoming more routine – much of what I’m doing doesn’t feel like a big deal any more.

I’ve averaged my use of everything over the last 6 months and here’s the results:

Target is 10% of the US national average for each category, or less.

Transportation fuel – 8%
Electricity – 14%
Gas/Kero – 7%
Rubbish – 4%
Water – 16% til 1 March then 0%
Consumer Goods – 12%
Food – I’m aiming for 75% local sustainable/homegrown produce, and we’re on 73%

Now for some comments on each category…

Transport – I think we’ve finally got this one sorted. We are riding our bikes heaps, walking more, catching public transport to most places we go, and only taking the car when we really need to. It feels like the habit has settled in. This figure would be higher if I counted my work – as it is I count Melbourne-based work but not distance touring.

Electricity – This one is a bit confusing because my actual aim is to use only what we generate with our new solar system, but right now there’s no way of knowing what we generate. Actual figures for the second half of the year should be lower because we have stopped using our old composting toilet that has a heating plate in it, and a fair bit of electricity has been used over summer to preserve food – dehydrating, bottling etc. In winter maybe we can use less. I’m also hoping to turn off our back fridge once the weather gets cooler and that will help our usage too.

Gas/Kero – We haven’t used any kero this year. We have used two bottles of gas in 6 months. The first one took 8 weeks, and the second one took 15.5 weeks. I suspect the first one may have had a leak. We have definitely reduced our gas use a bit though.

Rubbish – I have stopped counting rubbish. Overall our average is about 4% but this doesn’t include the vast amount we carted off to the tip in order to install our water tank.

Water – Our water usage, averaged over 5 months, was 16%. Much of this went onto the garden. On the first of March we disconnected from mains water – yay! Since then we have used only tank water which we collected. I hope we will be able to survive only with tank water from now on.

Consumer goods – I found out the average Australian household spends $15,000 per year on consumer goods. Our actual expenditure has been 12% over the last 6 months, not counting a couple of things we bought strictly for health reasons, and not counting some fairly major home improvements like the water tank. If we didn’t count the things I bought to help me with this riot, our expenditure would be 7%. I’ve needed to buy quite a few tools & safety items such as bike safety vests, bike trailer, bike racks, chicken wire, etc, to help us become more sustainable in our lifestyle. I don’t count things I buy specifically for my work.

Food – I’m aiming to purchase as much of our food locally as possible. I count anything coming from Victoria as local but I heavily prioritise purchases of items much closer to home. If you average all our food purchases over the last six months, 73% of them have been local, 10% have been bulk goods, and 17% have been “other”. It’s been pretty challenging making the change to local eating, but finally it’s feeling easier. Our biggest difficulty is that the farmer’s market is only once a fortnight, and if we miss that because we are working, such as happened for both markets in February, then we don’t have another good place to buy local food. Now things are improving as I’m finding other sources of local food: another once a month market on an alternate Saturday, a local food co-op where I can get a box of vegies and fruit weekly, another little weekly produce market. We are becoming good at eating local food – the main issue is shopping. I also try to grow as much of my own food as possible. I estimate I grow 80% of the vegies that we eat, but this only works out to 27% of our overall consumption as we consume a fair bit of milk, cream, eggs, meat and fish.

So what’s next for us? I think I need to focus on reducing our electricity use a bit by tracking it weekly and aiming for 42kw per week. Everything else is good – I just need to maintain it all!



Riot For Austerity – 1 Year Update

Sep 26, 2010 by Asphyxia

Believe it or not, it’s been a year since I started the Riot For Austerity – the project where I aimed to cut my use of resources down to 10% of what the average person uses. Here are my final figures:

Transport 9%
Electricity 6%
Gas and Kero 12%
Rubbish 7%
Water 0%
Consumer goods 12%
80% local sustainably produced food, 5% bulk dry goods, and 15% unsustainable produce.

Excluding food, which isn’t counted the same way as everything else, my overall resource footprint is 7.6% of the average. I’m pretty happy with that.

A few comments on each area.

We’ve made big lifestyle changes to get our transport down to 9%, and in many way this has been one of our most challenging areas. With other areas when we change our habit, the new way seems to stick. We have to constantly renew our commitment to bike riding, walking, public transport and living local in the face of ongoing temptation to use the car. But we are doing well. We’ll have to remain vigilant to maintain this. I have to point out though, that our transport use is 9% at home for personal transport. I’m not counting our tours for work, although I should.

To get electricity down to 6% we’ve got in the habit of switching off at the powerpoint (mostly), ditched several appliances, changed to 100% wind power in terms of purchased electricity, and installed a new array of solar panels on the roof. I’d still like to see our electricity consumption to drop so that we are using only the amount we generate.

Our gas and kero usage is significantly lower than what it was thanks to our new solar heater, which meant we only used one tin of kero this year, instead of the five we usually use. In summer we reduced gas usage by cooking on the rocket stove and having fewer baths. In winter though, despite our commitment to austerity, I’m just not prepared to use less gas than we do now. So either I write it off by saying the extra 2% of gas is balanced out by us being under in other areas, or else we work on reducing our summer usage with more rocket stove cooking. This summer we’ll probably be able to do that, since we won’t be working as hard as we did last summer, I hope.

I stopped counting rubbish a while ago, and 7% is a fairly generous estimate. I suspect we’re closer to 4% actually. I’d rather be a rubbish free household, but to get there requires more consumer changes which are pretty tricky. Maybe we’ll get there eventually. This doesn’t count the several skips of dirt we sent off to landfill in order to install our water tank.

Water is the best one! Our new water tank has given us total independence from the Melbourne water supply. It makes me feel secure and I really appreciate having water that hasn’t had any chemicals added. We tested it to see if we had city air pollution in it, but it came back as safe.

Getting consumer goods down to 12% has been a big challenge. I’m impressed we’ve gone so far. To be honest I’m not sure we can hold it at 12%, though I’ll try. I’ve enjoyed the make-it-myself attitude this has cultivated, and the resulting value of the things I’ve made. I’m not going to try and go lower than 12%. I’m happy with second hand purchases for most thing, but the bulk of our new-buying has been birthday presents for each other. We tend to spend over $100 on each birthday and it feels really special. Some things are wearing out/running out though, which are going to make it harder to keep purchases low. Many pens are out of ink, including art pens which I intend to replace. My computer and phone aren’t going to last forever, though I may be able to go second hand with these purchases. We’ll see.

Six months ago I realised the thing I hated most about the riot was tracking food purchases. It seemed so time consuming. I decided to stop counting, but stay focussed on our new local-food habits. This has worked well for me. I shop fortnightly at the farmer’s market and buy most of our food there. I receive a wholesale milk, eggs and cream delivery every week, which I resell to my friends at cost price. Paula buys dry goods, mostly in bulk, from a shop near our place, and non-local treats from our local shopping strip. We’ve dramatically cut our use of tins and packaging this winter as we’ve been eating all the food I preserved last summer. The bottled tomatoes are exquisite – tinned tomatoes are no comparison at all. The summer fruit has been a real treat too. We don’t eat out much – we used to have more meals at a restaurant but frankly the taste of the food just doesn’t compare to homecooked food from the farmer’s market our our garden, so it loses some of its appeal.

And now for the biggest part of the riot challenge: to keep our use at 10% or less for the rest of our lives. Gosh. It’s hard to think that far ahead. Many of our changes are probably permanent, and don’t really feel difficult, though I do long to buy a bit more stuff.

In practise though, I feel like I’ve only just started on my sustainable-lifestyle journey. There’s so much more I’d like to do, to help us become more self-reliant. Upcoming projects:

I’d like to make a solar attachment for my dehydrator, so that I can dry produce this summer without needing electricity.
Next winter I want to try again to turn off our back fridge.
I want us to get the hang of cooking on the rocket stove regularly. It’s a bit much for Paula so I’ll need to get more involved in managing the fire.
I want to make candles again, and make enough on the rocket stove in summer to get us through the winter.
I want to produce my own fabric from scratch, which I’m working on with my angora rabbit.
I want to raise our own meat, and keep bees for honey and pollination.
I want to create a greywater filtering system to clean the water that comes from our kitchen sink.
I want to become a better gardener so that my garden really feeds us for most of the year. Right now it’s only feeding us for about half of the time.

Overall though, I’m rapt with this project. It’s made me feel better about living on this earth, less guilty, more at peace with myself. My life feels more meaningful than it did a year ago, when I started the Riot. Working on tasks like food preservation, gardening, and making things instead of buying them have been enjoyable and gentle paced. They leave me in a good, healthy state, mentally and emotionally, unlike other work such as shopping or computing, which leave me drained and empty.



Riot For Austerity – 2 years on

Oct 3, 2011 by Asphyxia

I’ve spent the last few days being a living book at the Victorian Arts Centre, and happily they allowed me to tell the story of the Riot for Austerity: the changes I’ve made in order to reduce my environmental footprint to 10% of the average – the reduction we all need to make if we are to leave the planet in a good state for our kids and grandkids to inherit.

Welcome to all the people who have found my blog as a result of the Living Library. And thank you to everyone who listened so enthusiastically to my story and told me you would go home and plant out your garden.

For some gardening tips – tips on how to REALLY produce food for your family, see this post I made last year. I’ll write a new, updated one soon.

In the meantime, It’s exactly two years since I started the Riot for Austerity. With the riot, the first year is supposed to be a time for working out all the changes needed to reduce your family’s use of resources to ten percent of the average. Then after that, we are supposed to keep it there for the rest of our lives. Eek!
For this second year, I didn’t track my use of everything throughout the year. I just wrote down what our odometer was at the start of the year, our electricity meter and so on. So I had no idea if we were still on track until today, when I sat down to calculate it all. And I’ve been a bit nervous, since I’ve definitely bought more stuff this year – after about 5 years of not buying new clothes, I seriously needed a few things I couldn’t get in op shops. And after about 5 years of serious consumer restraint, I broke the barriers and bought a few items that weren’t strictly necessary. Anyway, happily it turns out we haven’t totally blown the Riot – in fact we are still right on track. Here’s the results for this past year:

Transport – 7.3% for petrol, and a bit more for public transport but I didn’t track it.
Electricity – 7.7% (half wind and half solar).
Rubbish – 1.5% (rough guess, maybe not even that much).
Water – 0% since we have our own tank and are self-sufficient in water.
Gas – 22% – for cooking.
Consumer goods – 20%
Food – I didn’t track but I’m guessing 70% local/homegrown/scavenged, 10% bulk goods and 20% conventional food (packaged/non-organic/from far away).

Overall our footprint averages at 10%. Just on target! And I used this calculator.

I must clarify at this point, that the above figures only include my personal life. I haven’t counted my work, and the Riot rules say that I should – but I don’t know how to, I feel too daunted by it, and so I’m doing what I can, which is changing my home life.

These days, rather than focussing on reducing the numbers calculated above, I’m looking in a more general way for what my next steps will be. This summer I plan to raise a batch of my own chickens for the table. Scary stuff. But I’ve found someone who promises to help me and show me how to do the grisly bits (thanks Roderick). At some point I’m still hoping to find ways to reduce our gas use such as by making a solar oven that actually works, and trying a haybox slow-cooker for stock.

I’m not going to try to get my consumer goods below 20%. Frankly I feel this is a figure I probably CAN live with for the rest of my life, while 10% is just too tight. But I’ll balance this by doing better in other areas, such as water.



Riot for Austerity Update

Oct 13, 2012 by Asphyxia

I began the Riot for Austerity in October 2009.  The Riot is a project started by Sharon Astyk, in which we aim to cut our use of resources to 10% of the average, and then keep them there for the rest of our lives.  George Monbiot determined that this was the amount that we in the Western world would need to reduce by in order to avert climate change and leave the planet in a decent state for our children.  With the Riot, calculate our footprint in 7 categories: transport, gas, electricity, water, garbage, consumer goods and food.

The first year of the Riot required a lot of focus for me, to make changes to the way we live, set up new systems and start new habits.  The second year I needed to be disciplined, but it was relatively easy.  This year, the third year, I confess I’ve had a bit of an attitude that I might lighten up a tad.  If I don’t quite make 10%, it doesn’t matter – I still do a lot.  But guess what?  When I sat down today to calculate the numbers, it turned out that we are actually doing even better than last year!  I seems the habits we have established for our lifestyle have settled in, and even though we think we’re being indulgent, it turns out it’s within our goals.  Yay!

So.. here’s my results for this year:

Bottled gas and kerosine (for heating, cooking and hot water boosting): 21%

Transport: 9%

Electricity: 9%

Water: 0%

Garbage 1.5%

Consumer goods 15%

Food: aim for 80% local organic sustainable produce, 10% dry bulk goods, and 10% non-sustainable treats.  I think we’ve probably managed 70% local sustainable produce.

Overall, not counting food, this averages to a footprint of 9.25%  I can’t believe we made it in under 10%!!

And now for some comments in each category:

Gas and kero: We used 5 bottles of gas and 20 litres of kerosine in the year.  I can’t really get the numbers lower than that with the amount of cooking we do.  Three of us usually bathe in the one tub, which is generally only half full, and I don’t want to become stingier than that.  But I figure our fuel usage is balanced out by being so low in other categories.

Transport: When I counted our petrol usage, it came to 7.1%.  I’ve bulked it up to 9% to account for public transport usage, but actually we are living so very locally lately that we don’t even use much public transport.  We ride much more than we have in past years, as we’re getting more confident on our bikes and so are happier to ride further.  I suspect the true figure could be lower, but I can’t be bothered to track my P.T. usage – I did for the first year, and even then it was minimal, though we used much more of it then than now.

Water: Since we installed our 40,000 litre water tank, and some seriously good filters, we have been self sufficient in water.  Actually we have run out twice, and in total used 4KL of mains water over the past year.  But 4KL is so far below 1% that it counts as a gorgeous big fat zero.  I love being sufficient in water – I can water our garden without guilt, which enables me to grow heaps of food.  And even if you have to use mains water, it’s better to use this to grow your own food, because commercially produced food always uses more water than home-produced food.

Garbage: I didn’t actually track our garbage this year.  Last year I estimated we generated the equivalent of 2 plastic shopping bags per week, and I’m sure we haven’t exceeded that this year.  We probably generate much less garbage actually, but I’ve left it at 1.5 to be safe.

Consumer goods: this is the category I still find the hardest, but it is much easier this year, as I seem to have broken the shopping habit.  These days I rarely get the desire to go shopping, unlike before when shops were a temptation I had to fight hard against.  Nowadays I’d prefer to do art than go shopping, and I do.  Actually my biggest weakness has been in buying art supplies, and this was what made me think I’d ruined our Riot.  But luckily I came in only slightly over budget, and it was compensated for by others in my household spending less.  Phew.  BTW with consumer goods my personal aim is to come in under 20%, rather than hit 10%.

Food: I didn’t track our food this year, but I know from tracking in past years we have probably grown/scavenged 70% of what we eat.  I’m happy enough with that.  I actually had to relax my food strictness part way through the year, and buy in some out of season vegies, due to a health drama which I’ll blog about in a different post.  I’m still ironing out the details of that one but have mostly returned to local produce.  As a household we don’t have a habit of buying processed food, and still make just about everything from scratch.  We also salvage a lot of food from our neighbourhood that would otherwise go to waste, which feels like a good contribution to our food system.

I have to state, at this point, that I haven’t counted our work.  Under the Riot rules, we are supposed to.  But when I started the Riot, I chose not to, because otherwise our flights for tours would be so overwhelmingly punitive that I didn’t feel we’d make any progress.  Instead, my focus is on making my home life as sustainable as possible to balance out the work part.  We have scaled back our touring significantly, and intend to hang up our puppets at the end of this year.  While I am still doing some travel to give author talks, a lot of the talks are in Melbourne and we  ride or catch public transport to them, which is a delightful new change for us.  I also made a few purchases for work, which were paid for with funding or by clients, and I didn’t count them here either.

I’m now feeling pretty optimistic about the “rest of your life” part of the Riot, which up until now has terrified me.  I’ve known I could be disciplined for a specific period of time, but I didn’t think being disciplined forever was going to work for me.  However, now I see it’s about lifestyle and habit – the lifestyle changes and habits we have made have truly settled in and feel normal to us now.  Maybe the “rest of my life” thing is going to work afterall.

Now leave a comment and tell me, how are you going with your Riot?  I know several of you are Grass Roots readers and might be making some changes to how you live as a result of reading about the Riot.  I’d love to hear how you are going, what you are struggling with and what achievements you’ve made.  Remember, you don’t have to go all the way to 10% – any change is valuable!