Welcome, fellow eco-junkies. It gets addicting doesn't it? You might already be doing some of these things, but here are some ideas on how to "be the change."
1. Imagine a fully renewable-energy powered world
2. Make self-sufficiency a top priority
3. Add solar heating or electricity to your home or business
4. Invest in alternative transportation
5. Join with other Green Geeks, and build community!
6. Harvest the rain!
7. Support your local family farmer and wild food foragers
9. Get involved in your local political scene
10. Lift 'em up, instead of bringing 'em down
Imagine a fully renewable-energy powered world
What's this? The same advice we give to the Casually Committed? What an insult! Actually, we think this really is the first step for all of us, and as a Green Geek, you can do it in much more detail, which makes it even more powerful. You're probably doing most of the things in the "casual" list, but this one often gets overlooked.
So yes, start with your life, see the day when you drive a biofuel or electric vehicle and live in a house that produces all of it's own energy using renewables like solar or wind or geothermal. Then picture your entire neighborhood doing that. Then picture it spreading throughout your city, your country, your world. The more you learn about sustainability, the farther you can go in creating your vision and telling other people about it.
This idea comes from our good friends at the Intenders, who help people make the most of their thoughts and words.
Make self-sufficiency on an individual and community scale a top priority
This is a concept that we think can get a little bit lost in the mix of the "green" movement, but we'd venture to say that it's just as important as reducing emissions and fretting about climate change. It's also where the political left and political right can mostly meet and agree, which is a good thing.
Our focus is on creating a new system of cleaner, less centralized energy production where individuals and communities have a lot of control over harnessing, storing and distributing the energy they use. We ask the Green Geeks out there to join us in embracing clean, renewable energy to empower themselves and their communities, rather than hoping for and continuing to rely on huge multinational corporations to harvest, produce and distribute all of our energy for us.
In our opinion, it's just as important to address and change this system of production as it is to move from fossil fuels to renewables. Of course, larger corporations can and will play a role in creating a more sustainable culture, but the more energy self-sufficient we become as individuals and communities, the more secure we will be and the less we have to rely on the centralized energy systems that can sometimes create conflict. The following ideas on this list come out of this top priority.
Add solar water heat or solar electricity to your home or business
If you're serious about becoming more energy self-sufficient, one of the best things to do is to start getting some of your hot water or electricity (or both!) from the sun by installing a solar hot water heater or solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. These were two of the first steps we took with the SolTrekker. If you think your climate is not sunny enough to make solar power feasible, (an excuse we often hear in Oregon) consider Germany, a country leading the world in solar power output that gets less sun per year than any U.S. state other than Alaska.
Solar hot water (or solar thermal) is a lesser known, less expensive and relatively simple technology when compared to solar electricity. Depending on your region, it can offset your water heating costs by 65 to 90 percent, and if you have or install radiant heating, it can offset your space heating costs by the same amount. Prices will vary, but with existing tax credits, the average solar thermal system (installed) runs from about $3,000 to $8,000. In most areas, these systems will pay for themselves in six to 10 years.*
Solar PV systems are the more well-known type of solar power and are also more expensive (which is usually the excuse you hear for people not getting one). With existing tax credits, the average solar PV system (installed) runs from $15,000 to $22,000. Getting a solar PV system to pay off usually takes longer, from 20 to 35 years, depending on region.**
Here is a link that lists incentives state by state. http://www.dsireusa.org/
Here is a link that lists federal incentives: www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_tax_credits
Here's a few "feel good" emissions facts about solar power:
One solar water heater on one house will offset 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of 20 years that would otherwise be emitted from fossil fuel powered electricity. That's a big difference on a country wide scale. For example, China has installed 22.6 million solar water systems, saving 1.6 million gallons of oil per year and offsetting 17.4 million tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted from coal powered electricity.
When compared to traditional fossil fuels, the average residential solar PV system offsets about 10,000 pounds of CO2 per year, or 90 tons over a 20 year span. It will also offset 1,400 pounds of nitrogen oxide and 800 pounds of sulfur dioxide (both toxic to human health) over those 20 years as well.
* based on the U.S. Dept of Energy statistic that average American household spent $60 per month (in 2006) on hot water, and assuming that traditional energy costs won't rise, in which case the system would pay off faster.
** based on the U.S. Dept. of Energy statistic that the average American household spent $90 (in 2006) per month on electricity.
Invest in alternative transportation like biofueled vehicles, electric vehicles, etc
We advocate the benefits in many types of alternative transport including mass transit, biofueled vehicles, hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, compressed air vehicles, etc. If mass transit doesn't work for you, consider making your next vehicle purchase a biofuel compatible vehicle, a hybrid or electric vehicle, or perhaps even a compressed air vehicle. If you're really hardcore, you might consider converting a diesel vehicle to run on straight vegetable oil (or purchasing one that's already converted).
Biofuel: We believe that biofuels can be produced and consumed in a sustainable way and we point to examples like SeQuential Biofuels, Yokayo Biofuels and Piedmont Biofuels. Biodiesel and ethanol have taken a hit in the media recently, and we understand why, but we also hold them up as better alternatives to fossil fuels. The reasons are too numerous to briefly sum up in this list, but the possibility of community production is a big one. Also, the possibilities for "next generation" biofuels are exciting.
Here are some electric vehicle, compressed air vehicle and straight veggie links.
Join with other Green Geeks, and build community!
Getting involved with your community and getting your community involved in energy and food production are probably the most powerful things you can do. It's not realistic for most individuals to become totally self-sufficient by producing all of their own basic necessities, but it is possible for communities to head in this direction as individuals join together.
If you feel tempted to opt out of solar power or biofuels because of their expense, have we got an idea for you: Join or form a renewable energy collective or cooperative.
For example, drawing on examples in Austria and California, we are starting a solar panel buyer collective in our home state of Oregon, scheduled to launch in June 2009. The idea is to get a large group of homeowners to invest in solar power systems collectively in order to get a large reduction in price. Once our collective hits 200 homeowners, we will be seeking bids from companies to get the best price possible for our large group. The same idea can be applied in the form of biofuel, vegetable oil and grocery cooperatives. If there isn't one in your area, maybe you're just badass enough to start one.
Harvest the rain!
We were lucky enough to meet Tank Town founder Richard Heinichen, who introduced us to the many benefits of harvesting rainwater, and the many ways to do so, and we're excited to pass the information on. From small garden irrigating systems to whole house filtered systems, rainwater catchment helps us to make the most of this precious resource.
Join a gleaning effort or create your own
Gleaning is the process of locating and harvesting urban fruit trees that would otherwise go unharvested. These unharvested fruit trees are very common in many towns and cities, and we advocate following the lead of our good friends at the Portland Fruit Tree Project, as well as similar projects around the country. The PFTP harvested in 3,400 pounds of fruit in 2007, and half of that was donated to local food pantries. Get in on that action!
Support your local family farmer and wild food foragers
Small family farms in the U.S. took a beating in the last century, but are making a comeback in this one, as many of us recognize the value of a decentralized, community-based food production system. You can support your family farmer by participating in community supported agriculture (CSA), attending local farmer's markets, participating in a local food coop and supporting all efforts to help out family farmers, such as the great work being done by the great people at Friends of Family Farmers.
As for wild food foraging, this is a great way for us to become a bit more self-sufficient, get back in touch with natural food sources and learn to see the abundance around us. Some of the wild foodies we recommend supporting include our friend Sunny Savage, as well as Forager's Harvest and Wild Food Adventures.
If telecommuting is possible, propose a "telecommute day" at work
With conference calls, cell phones, the Internet, text messaging, iChat and all the other modern communication marvels, a lot of jobs could be accomplished without visiting an office every single day, and yet, many companies haven't taken advantage of telecommuting. If yours hasn't and you think it's a viable option, you might propose the idea of a monthly or bi-monthly telecommute day.
Get involved in your local political scene
There are so many opportunities for you to make your green voice heard on a local level, and getting involved in (or at least taking an interest in) local politics is a great way to do that. Local politicians are usually much more receptive to suggestions and ideas than those who work on a national scale, and can often move faster to enact change. As a starting point, you might get involved with your town's office of sustainability (or suggest the formation of one if your town has yet to do so).
Be an uplifting advocate for sustainability and remember to have fun
When was the last time that someone treated you like an idiot and you still thought they had some great ideas? How about the last time that you met a judgmental, nitpicking, doom and gloom person and really felt like joining them in all their activities?
For us as sustainability pioneers, why should we expect people to accept our ideas if we treat them like they're inferior or really don't seem to be enjoying the way we live?
Keeping things uplifting and fun can sometimes be a challenge when the system we were born into is not as sustainable, renewable or balanced as we would like it to be, but we think that being uplifting is one of the most important things that any leader in this movement can do. We understand the desire to wake up the sleepwalkers, but usually a persistent whisper will work just as well as a sudden fire alarm.