What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Autorockawasher 5000

A few posts ago I told you about my plunger and bucket low tech washing machine. Well, contain your excitement, there has been a major upgrade to the technology. I was doing extra wash today, it's raining so I get the wash water for free and I get an extra rinse just by hanging the clothes on the line, and I figured I'd put into action a plan that has been percolating in my brain for about week. I mentioned it to my nephew last monday as a joke. Today I thought that if I've got all this extra plunging to do I might as well try it.

 I just attached the plunger to the back of my porch rocker and raised the bucket about 6" off the floor. I spend at least an hour a day in that rocker; first thing in the morning I watch the sun come up with my first cup of tea of the day, mid morning tea break, mid afternoon tea break, and we often have high level household business meetings on the porch. This means I can do the wash at the same time without getting out of my rocker! No power cost, no water cost (as long as I use rainwater), and I get a little rest. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Another Long Day

Finished digging a long thin strip bed for corn, beans and squash
More heavy landscaping; creating 2 terraces with cut logs 14" to 22" long by 15" in diameter
Ripped out the nasty old lino in the bathroom, more cleaning
Got started organizing the workshop under the house
Lots of hand watering in the garden
Planted and replanted
In the middle of it all we played a game of scrabble over a lovely lunch before some restful internet research during the heat of the day. Checked out this new type of treated wood.


and some rainwater storage tanks.
And now to go read my book (see below) and go to bed. This one is our current bible.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Climate Change - Meet the Scientists

potholer54 May 25, 2010 — In response to several requests, I'll put references in the video description rather than the body of the video:

John Coleman listed as media graduate in 1957
University of Illinois Alumni Association

Coleman claiming to be a meteorologist in Weather Channel founder suing Gore? Glenn Beck interview with John Coleman, March 5, 2008
Transcript at:

Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Program
list of Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM)

Christopher Moncktons resume:
Whos Who 2010

Oregon Petition found at:

Steven C. Zylkowski credentials found at:

Earl Aaagard web page:

John Stossel clip from Global Warming? Really Bad? on YouTube

Bob Carter listed as palaeoclimatologist in US Senate Minority Report,

Sorry to ruin the fun, but an ice age cometh
Phil Chapman
The Australian, April 23, 2008

Chapman bio on NASA website:

Tim Ball 28 Years Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg
Letter to Paul Martin

Tim Ball: for 32 years I was a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg.
Deniers vs Alarmists in the Eco-Argument
Orato website, May 28th, 2006

Tim Ball lettrt to Royal Society, listed as professor of climatology

University of Winnipeg website:

Geography course units at the University of Winnipeg

Tim Ball described as professor of geography
Fraser Institute Website

Tim Ball letter to Royal Society, listed as retired professor of geography:

Global Warming, Two Points of View
Bio of Tim Ball showing time spent at University of Winnipeg

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Beat the heat

It's just before 5 in the morning, the early freight train is busy waking everybody up as it passes through town, it's 65ºF outside, probably 74ºF inside. Today it is forecast to go to 90ºF, yesterday it got up to about 86ºF. For a couple of recent arrivals from England, that's hot. We went out and about yesterday so the house stayed closed up most of the day. I was pleased and a little surprised when we got home about 3pm, the hottest part of the day to find the house nice and cool, relative to outdoors at least.

One of the first things we did when we got here was to re-instate all the little techniques we developed to beat the heat when we were here before, that was during 2 months of summer heat. We hang foil wrapped bubble sheet in the windows that get direct sun and close the blinds, we keep the windows upstairs on the north side of the house open at all times, we leave the northfacing windows downstairs cracked for most of the day, only closing them up if we are going to be away or during the hottest part of the day. Our window strategy generally is to open windows only where the air is cool, so on the west side in the morning, east side in the late afternoon (probably not till evening today) and most of the time on the north side. This morning I've closed all but one window upstairs and placed a fan blowing out in that window, I've also opened up all the windows downstairs. I'm hoping this will draw cool air through the house while it is at it's coolest. I've turned on the ceiling fans on low to circulate the warm air out of corners and hopefully out of the house.

The other key element to our strategy is to keep the sun off the partial wrap around porch on the est and south side of the house by hanging blinds at the outside edge of the porch. This is most important as it is critical to keep the sun off and out of the house as much as possible. The picture shows the east facing blinds doing the job on a recent warm morning. Also notice the shrubs on the south side (facing the camera). We've used our clothes washing grey water to help them put on some leaf. They were shorter and just looked like dead sticks 3 weeks ago. They are helping by shading the brickwork behind them as well as the ground underneath.

I'll turn off the fans and close the west window upstairs, open the north windows, and lower the blinds when the sun gets over the trees. We'll be out and about today as well and I'm hoping we'll find the house nice and cool when we return.

Beyond these measures we are getting estimates for a white metal roof. This should significantly reduce the amount of heat the roof absorbs as it is currently black asphalt. It will also allow us to use the rainwater off the roof in the garden, something I won't do currently.  This is all common sense stuff but generally falls under the category of passive solar design. It is simple, inexpensive (aside from the roof which never should have been asphalt in the first place), and achievable to some degree in most homes.

We have other plans to improve the solar performance of the house but I'll cover those as we embark upon them. Our hope is to never turn on our AC again. Wish us luck!
Passive Solar Energy Book

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Video - Reinventing Fire

RockyMtnInstitute May 24, 2010 — Energy-related economic, security, and environmental threats are intensifying the national conversation about how to regain energy leadership and competitiveness, restore jobs and prosperity, and build a secure and climate-safe energy system.

Yet America lacks a comprehensive vision of how a market economy can achieve these transformational goals.

RMI has that vision, and is now building its detailed roadmap, which we call Reinventing Fire™. This strategy will bring together RMIs 28 years of innovation and engage the world in our most ambitious and important work yet—using whole-system thinking and integrative design to move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050, led by business for profit.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Initial off grid calculations and rain, at last!

We had a very dramatic thunderstorm last night with several close lightning strikes. We certainly needed the rain. As it was forecast I decided to unplug my computer system before we went to bed. I've been measuring the power usage of my computer setup so I had to take the reading before unplugging. We've used 1.14 Kwh in 103 hours of measuring. That works out to a little over a quarter of a Kwh per day. According to the solar calculator at FindSolar.com I only need 70 watts of panels to provide all the electricity to power my computer system. I have 120 watts of panels so will be providing ample charge to the battery to cover my needs. There will be some losses in the system but I may be able to offset them by manually turning my panels, I plan to mount them on a moving cart, throughout the day to stay at best orientation to the sun. I have a deep cycle battery and am ordering a charge controller so this blog should be solar powered soon. The next system to add will be the telephone and cable modem that we need to get our phone service and then on to the fridge. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Hours of drama without a TV

Thanks to Kurt's Weblog for the image.

We don't have a television, we get far more done without it and they are an unnecessary expense. Besides we can find most anything we want to watch online on the rare occasion that we feel it necessary. Even without a TV we still get drama. You may recall from a recent post that we have a cardinal nest just off our front porch. We have been carefully avoiding disturbing the little family by not using the nearby door and never turning on the tap beneath it.

Episode 1 of "The Cardinals" brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises. "Mother Nature, since day one, always there when you need her."
  I've dragged another hosepipe around the house from a different tap in order to irrigate as needed and yesterday afternoon I was watering our seedlings when I noticed the male and female cardinals frantically dashing back and forth from the ground beneath the nest to a nearby maple tree. I slowly approached and when about 10 feet away saw the baby on the ground. He saw me at the same time and took off lickitysplit towards the parents who were calling from the maple tree. Running like a little drunken chicken and flapping his (we've decided it must be a little boy for being so naughty as to fall out of the nest) proto-wings and chirping all the while. I immediately walked the other direction in order to minimize stress in an already frantic family crisis and went to fetch Jacqui, but she was deep into her afternoon nap. I settled onto the porch to watch the drama unfold.

Episode 2 - of the "The Cardinals" brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises, commercial free from the same vantage point, 30 minutes later. "Mother Nature, clean, reliable, and comforting"
 I watched from the porch for abit and it was evident that the parents were trying to entice the youngster out of the open into some cover. I eventually spotted the little creature below the maple and watched as he made his way along the row of holly bushes toward the magnolia tree. He rested up in the last holly bush for a while before jumping down and, following his parents lead, scurried into the magnolia leaf litter. Here he stayed, the parents spent the next hour aggressively chasing off blue jays twice their size with the assistance of another male cardinal, last years chick perhaps, and stopping to catch their breath on the power lines above. I fancied them saying ;

Mum "Your son is driving me around the bend!"
Dad "OH, now he's my son is he, who taught him that he could go anywhere in life, be anything he wanted to be?"
Mum "Well I certainly didn't encourage him to stand on the edge of the nest and show off."
Dad "Well....well....be that as it may, what are we gonna do now? It'll be dark soon and that cat will be prowling round and that'll be the end of your little 'be all you can be' toddler."
Mum "While you are sitting here yakking that damn Jay is back"
Dad "I'm on it"

Jacqui arose and I left her in charge of keeping track of their actions while I showered and made a cuppa.

Episode 3 -"The Cardinals"  brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises, "Mother Nature, yuck what's all this black stuff on my dress!"
We began to worry that the little chap wouldn't make it through the night on the ground and considered putting him back in his nest. Consulting with a neighbor, who grabbed a net, we decided to capture the chick and return it home. As I walked under the magnolia, Jacq and the neighbor poised to catch the little blighter if he ran towards the road, I heard him chirp and located him on a very low branch.

The concluding episode of "The Cardinals" brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises, will return in a moment, right after your local news and weather. "Mother Nature, How much longer will she be there for you?"

The noise from the road a few blocks away is noticeable now as rush hour is getting under way, the tea has gone cold in the mug, the ambient temperature is about 78ºF, no rain is expected for the next 12 hours. We now return you to the concluding episode of "The Cardinals" brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises with no commercial interruptions.

Episode 4 - "The Cardinals" brought to you by Mother Nature Enterprises. "Mother Nature, too busy trying to survive to provide for you right now."
He must have been exhausted, junior just sat there looking at me as I gently scooped him up. We walked him across the yard, after a brief gaze at his bug eyed naughty little self, and placed him back on the nest. The parents were still looking around in the magnolia, then he chirped. Mum immediately returned to the nest to check out who was chirping from her nest. Dad kept looking in the magnolia. We were worried that they would reject him as he must now smell of me. Mum checked him out and eventually decided he wasn't an imposter, Dad kept looking in the  magnolia. Mum started feeding the little one, Dad kept looking in the magnolia. Eventually Dad decided junior really wasn't there any longer and took Mum's lead, the happy family reunited.

So after about 4 hours of family drama, no cable bill required, we toddled off to bed.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Sunshine, plants, and baby birds.

 It's been chilly the last few days, down to 44F at night and lovely and cool during the day. This was a welcome development after several days of over 80F, not that I'm complaining, the warmth has been delicious. Until this morning we hadn't had a drop of rain since we arrived, which has been great from getting work done but it was pretty dry. Yesterday, I started putting in the first raised bed and the ground is rock hard, admittedly this strip of land, see picture, on the north east side of the house was used as an extra driveway by the last tenant. The plan is to fit 5 beds in there. All my beds will be 8x5 so that I can build an 8x5 chicken coop  to set on top of each in turn.

Meanwhile Jacqui took somewhat of a break from cleaning,  she needed to give her arms and hands a chance to recover from 3 days of vigorous scrubbing, and potted up some of our seedlings. The rest will go in the bed; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers. We've got cantaloupe, watermelon, and squash for a separate area where they can spread out.

I've also gotten the leaf mold pile up and running. I tossed in some half rotten split logs to help it along.

You'll notice from the pictures just how incredibly white our legs are. As we were walking recently we were accosted by a local gendarme on suspicion of being foreigners. Just the fact that we were walking instead of driving is suspicious enough but no this was due simply ti prejudice. Our white skin gave us away. This type of profiling based on skin color, now the law in Arizona, is heinous in the extreme. I can understand that we might prove a hazard to all the people going by in their tanks (locally known as SUV's) because the extreme whiteness of our skin temporarily blinds them, but that is no excuse for treating us as something special. Fortunately we were able to produce our passports and he let us off with a warning to "get a tan.... and a car" and we were on our merry way, thankful for our freedom as legal, if marginal, people. Of course that never happened but gosh aren't our legs white!

We have a nest with baby cardinals just outside our dining room window. Wonderful!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Almost the lowest tech washing machine

We’ve settled into the routine of making the house livable here at sustliving central in Hickory NC. There is much cleaning to be done, some painting will be required after the eventual necessary renovation work, and the mammoth task of converting the suburban lawn to raised beds, fruit orchards, chicken habitat, ponds and biomass plantings has begun.

But while all this is going on we must take care of basic needs, food shopping (the fridge was filthy but functional), cooking (the cooker was covered in grime but still works), bathing (again, dirty but serviceable), and doing laundry (unfortunately our laundry room is shot, mold in the walls, broken taps, torn lino, peeling paint, and moldy blinds). The washer dryer unit is stored in the walk-in crawlspace below and we haven’t had the man power to move it, nor would we want to install it without redoing the laundry room, a task that will have to wait. This left us with a dilemma, how to wash clothes without spending too much time, and as we seem to be heading into the now normal summer drought, too much water in the process. I thought I would employ a method I heard about when I lived aboard a boat that utilizes two simple common items, a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet plunger. I found the bucket down in the crawlspace but couldn’t find one of the 2 plungers I had left with the house. Pondering my options, I moved on to other jobs.

The first major job to be done in the yard is to cut back some of the southern magnolia grove. The main trunk of the tree is a good 18” in diameter and it is surrounded by upwards of 30 leaders varying in size from 1/2” to 10” in diameter. I’ll cut about a quarter of these out including some of the largest ones which will give me timber for the raised beds as well as lots of poles and sticks and tons of leaves. The lowest boughs of this magnolia community sweep the ground in a circle probably 20’ across forming a closed space within. I’m taking out a small bit facing into my garden giving me a view of the interior of this green room, and creating a small overhung shady cove to place a garden bench. As I cut into the first branches and got a look inside I spied various bits of trash; bottles, boxes, beer cans, and lo and behold a plunger! A very strange thing to find deep within a magnolia grove  but I didn’t give it much thought and marched straight to the hose and washed it off. I half filled the bucket with cold water, added a touch of Seventh Generation eco soap, dropped in the clothes, and plunged away. I figured I’d leave the bucket on the porch and instructed Jacqui to give it a go whenever she passed the bucket, I would do the same. I now returned to my tree trimming.

I cut a few more leaders and found a few more bits of trash and whaddya know, another plunger! So now both plungers were accounted for. I must admit I was quite perplexed as to how these two ended up in the leaf litter in this private little space but I didn’t take time to cogitate on this until I spied a third plunger! Now this was getting weird.

Over the preceding 8 years the house had been rented by 3 families with every age of child. Some of the parents had various issues; unemployment, drink, drugs, divorce. Now I got up to some goofy stuff when I was a kid but I really can’t imagine what would spark someone to take a serious of toilet plungers into the trees. I don’t think I want to think about it anymore. Let’s get back to my almost lowest tech washing machine.

I say “almost” because I have washed my clothes in a less labour intensive way before. When I lived on the boat I would sometimes put my dirty clothes in a stout mesh bag, tie them securely to a long line and toss them overboard when I went sailing. The constant action of being pulled through the briny waves around Bermuda usually did the trick, it was important to rinse thoroughly, however, with fresh water.

This new method involves about 23 hours of soaking in weak soapy water with the occasional plunging from passersby (I even enlisted my quizzical young niece and nephew), then I pour the water on my shrubs and toss the clothes in the shower. When I join the clothes in the tub I push them away from me and the drain and rinse myself thoroughly (this was especially important today as I spent a good portion of it shovelling very dry well composted horse manure in a fairly high wind, I ended up with horse shit powder all over me), when I soap up I pull the clothes under my feet at which point I begin a little shower dance on them to pound out the dirt. I push them over the drain as I rinse and pound them some more in the soapy water. After a good rinsing I wring them out and hang them on the line (as we are in the suburbs I am careful to get dressed first). This shower stage is something I have practiced in various situations for many years and it has been just barely passable, I find that the bucket, plunger and soak stage makes all the difference, today as Jacqui took the clothes off the line she commented on how they smelled “spring fresh”.

So I’m chuffed about this simple machine; low tech, practically free, and water saving to boot, but I still can’t stop wondering about those 3 toilet plungers abandoned in the trees...

Video - Leave it all behind

" If banks are "too big to fail" does that mean the rest of us are just the right size? In today's economy, bankrupt is the new black. Leave It All Behind. The debut music video from The Dalliance dealing with bankruptcy in America."

Friday, 7 May 2010

Video - The Genetic Conspiracy

" July 22, 2007 — How safe is the so-called "Green Genetic Engineering" really?
Monsanto, the world's largest genetic engineering corporation, insists it is safe. Numerous studies claim genetically modified plants can cause allergies and cancers. However, commercial and political interests are determined to make genetic engineering the norm.

GM crops bring higher pesticide use, not less. No surprise there.

"It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen."
- Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, quoted in a must-read New York Times article by William Neuman and Andrew Pollack, May 4, 2010, "Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds." The article describes how overuse of Monsanto's Roundup on Monsanto's Roundup Ready GMO crops has resulted in a new generation of superweeds that must be sprayed with highly toxic pesticides. " - OCA

As reported over at Organic Consumers Association, overuse of Monsanto's roundup, the basic intent of the development of Monsanto GM seeds, has resulted, as predicted by scientists not in the employ of agribusiness, in the development of superweeds requiring excessive doses of herbicides, read the full story here

The World According to Monsanto (US NTSC Format)

Monday, 3 May 2010

No Excuse

We are traveling again. After all our good intentions to find a cruise to America the logistics were untenable and we are taking a flight. We have managed to avoid any short haul flights but ultimately we have once again failed to avoid flying. Chock it up to convenience; we couldn't get an affordable cruise prior to the end of June and we need to get out of where we are living ASAP, any cruise taken would have involved significant hassle at the other end as the US passenger train situation is a bit of an unknown, we don't want to wait to get our project started, doubts about the relative carbon emissions benefits of transatlantic air travel versus cruise ships. I could continue with the rationale but ultimately it is about the convenience and affordability of air travel. As I said in the title, No Excuse.