Riot for Austerity – The Calculator is Back!

A very quick post (which turned into a much longer one than expected).

Riot for Austerity Year 2 Outcomes from MamaStories

The riot for austerity calculator that I talked about in this earlier post is back on line.  See link to the calculator here.  Brooklinemama’s current success (through February 2012)  in her quest to cut her family’s energy usage to 10% that of the average American family is chronicled  here.

Sharon Astyk (and friends) are the originators of the calculator. More information about the background on the calculator and references for source data about  current energy, water and resource use by American families appears in Sharon’s post Time to Riot here.

I’m planning to try this for March. It should be pretty easy to track.

  • Transportation mileage: I already pay for gas by debit card and keep receipts. Per Sharon, the average American uses 500 gallons of gas per person, per year.
  • Public transportation mileage: I keep receipts of when I travel by public transportation.  For MARTA, I’ll need to estimate the mileage of my average trip.
  • At home electricity: easily available from monthly bill. The average American uses 2,000 kwh per person (“at home” as opposed to “at work and other places you go”) per year.
  • Heating and Cooking Fuel: easily available from monthly bill.
  • Garbage: I’ll need to weigh my trash. I don’t have much  I do a lot of recycling and composting. Per Sharon, the average American household produces 40 lbs of garbage per week.
  • Water: easily available from monthly bill. I found Sharon’s figures confusing so I found some statistics from the American Water Works Association. They cited indoor per person use at 69.3 gallon per day and total household use at 350 gallons per day (at 2.6 person/household, this is equivalent to 135 gallons per person per day)
  • Consumer Goods. Easily available. I keep monthly receipts. Per Sharon, the average American spend $11,000 per year on items that don’t include food, insurance, energy, housing and other necessities.
  • Food: percent locally grown, dry and bulk goods, wet and conventional goods. The trickiest of the lot.  Initially I’ll estimate.  Probably I should weigh these for accurate figures.

Also, see here for link to “when to start what” planting date calculator from Johnny’s selected seeds.

I’m already way behind.  Trying to catch up with garden planning and garden work this week.


Reach Out to Neighbors – A Project

Averill Woods Neighborhood Yard Sale, Wes Thorp, photographer

My inventory shows my score for building local community is abysmally low. I live in a suburb.  After reading in Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth , about Micheal Wood-Lewis’ efforts to connect residents in his neighborhood through a community forum that he created online, I realized I could do the same thing without a lot of effort.

I did a little online research on the subject. Here are some of the links I found interesting:

Front Porch Forum The network created by Micheal Woods-Lewis.  After building this network to connect his neighbors, he expanded the site to connect towns throughout Vermont.  This network is still limited to towns in Vermont now.  They have some good information on how to spearhead a local forum. Look at their  sample newsletter to see a  format that has worked for others.

  • availability ♥
  • privacy ♥♥♥
  • support in building connection  ♥♥
  • easy access and readability of site    ♥♥

E Democracy allows you to host an online forum on their site. This site seems to be focused on creating citizen engagement around a neighborhood issue rather than enhancing general neighborhood connection.  The site does have resources for general connection which they call a Neighbors Forum.  See the Twin Cities Site here for a sample of what their site will look like to your community members.  A non-profit hosts the site, so no ads will appear in your forum. This site emphasizes that a single person will need to take the lead in getting the community built, and provides resources to do this.  Their blog and wiki seem to be great resources for building a neighborhood forum though the sites they create are not the flashiest.

  • availability ♥♥♥
  • privacy ♥♥♥
  • support in building connection  ♥♥♥
  • easy access and readability of site    ♥

Neighbortree is an online site that allows your neighborhood to build at website for community connection. I’m not sure how active this option is or how available it is to the southeast. This site does not emphasize the need for a leader to build the forum (and so the forum participation will probably be very low without this leadership.) It seems like ads will support your site. I’m not sure about your privacy, since this is an online for profit site supported by ads (though the ads are from local small and medium-sized businesses).  Here is what a site will look like.

  • availability ♥♥♥
  • privacy ♥
  • support in building connection  ♥
  • easy access and readability of site    ♥♥

Localblox is another online site with very flashy interface.  This site is supported by ads.  It seems to be geared toward giving local businesses a place to advertise at low-cost and not toward building community.  Check availability in your local area.

  • availability ♥♥♥
  • privacy ♥
  • support  in building connection ♥
  • easy access and readability of site    ♥♥♥

Hey Neighbor is a  new site I read about on It also emphasizes the need for a person to take the lead in getting folks engaged on the site. It provides an opportunity to exchange microfavors, small favors that you can do for your neighbors to help build community and posts announcements for people in your community. Hey Neighbor marks my as a 1 square mile area around where I live. I couldn’t find an easy link to a sample newsletter (they don’t create a “newsletter”, but if you watch the video(on the home page and others), they show you what a active site looks like.

  • availability ♥♥♥
  • privacy ♥♥
  • support in building connection  ♥♥
  • easy access and readability of site    ♥♥

Of course, I can build probably build a site of my own using Google sites, Online Groups or even WordPress using these ideas.

For now, I just joined Hey  I’m going to look into instigates the growth of my community network using these tools particularly the e-democracy resources. I think I’ll kick it off by inviting my neighbors to a joint yard sale in September (no waste).

Reach Out to Neighbors – Project Information:

  • Leverage Point Priority: E (Evolve system structure, increasing local and renewable.)
  • Importance: A
  • Difficulty: 1 (signing up is not very difficult, nor is reaching out a little more)
  • Cost: $0 There may be some minimal cost (printing flyers) in money and time if I take on more of a leadership role.
  • Comments on functions: This activity will Increase diversity of community member resources.  It will also Increase reciprocity and help build local community.

Riot for Austerity – A Project

A few days ago I stumbled upon a blog that challenges its readers to cut their  emissions by 90% within a year and to hold them at that level.  The writer proposes that people do this by reducing use in 7 areas:

Riot for Austerity Year 2 Outcomes from MamaStories

  • Transportation
  • Electricity
  • Heating and Cooking
  • Garbage
  • Water
  • Consumer Goods
  • Food

(I’m not sure what the basis of a 90% emissions reduction target is.  Here is one thought. Looking at National Ecological Footprints produced by the Global Footprint Network,  the 2007 data indicates the US global footprint was then 8 hectares/person while the global average was 2.7.  In comparison, the average for Europe was 4.7 hectares per person while the average for China was 2.2 hectares per person. Their figures show that  global footprint exceeded the biocapacity in 1975 and that in 2007 the available biocapacity was 1.8 hectares per person. Getting from 8 to 1.8 is a 77% reduction.  I don’t doubt that available biocapacity has decreased since 2007.)

In any case, reductions to a consumption levels that matches the biocapacity of the planet is a good preliminary target on which to base any attempts at self-regulation (Principle 4).

This project was originally started in May 2007 at Simple Living but stopped.  Sharon Astyk one of the co-developers has resurrected it at Casaubon’s Book  here.

I don’t know what is doable in a year’s time, but this format makes a lot of sense in terms of tracking my use and making reductions.

This will also be a good blog to follow; there should be lots of good ideas that are relevant to permaculture beyond the garden.

Riot for Austerity – Project Information:

  • Leverage Point Priority: C (Increase access to feedback.)
  • Importance: A
  • Difficulty: 1 (collecting the feedback) 1 and 2 (initial reductions)
  • Cost: $0 – collecting the feedback
  • Comments on functions: This activity will provide feedback on electricity, natural gas and water use, food consumption and waste reduction.

Last Thoughts on Prioritzing the Project List

I stumbled on this in Permaculture, Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability today:

“Thus, the first priority is to survive (obtain a yield from captured energy), while the second is to pay for what we get in some way that helps maintain the future flow of energy.  The third is to contribute in some way and direction to the wider system, rather than seeing our own survival as an end in itself. “

I’ll add this to my list of considerations in prioritizing my projects.

Also see: My First Project List and More Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List

More Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List

As  I thought about it a little more, I created another inventory to assess where I stood on 12 permaculture principles in five overall areas:

  • Food
  • Energy
  • Water Use/Reuse
  • Material Use/Reuse
  • Community

Here is my August 10th, 2011 assessment in the area of food.

 Area of Implementation S C O R E  Comments
 Buy from a local
 I rarely make the conscious choice to buy from a local source.
 Obtain a Yield (zone 1 sources)
 Use foods with low embedded energy
 Create a diversity of sources
 Catch and store (at home)
 No waste  All foods recycled to compost or worm bin. All packaging is recycled as well.
Leverage Feedback  There is no tracking of yield or diversity of elements.
 Use Edges and Marginal Areas
 Integrate and stack functions

Here is a  link to my entire chart,  Inventory of Principle Implementation.

As you can see my scores are pretty low.  I’d like to get a minimal score in each area of the chart.  In other words I’d like a score of one for 1)buy from a local source, 2)catch and store at home, 3)leverage feedback, 4)use edges and marginal area and 5)integrate and stack functions. I need to choose projects that will give me these minimal scores. This will give me integration across the area being assessed.

To help me look at this aspect, I added an extra column to my original projects list to capture my thoughts on the functions associated with each of the projects. For example:

  • For the  Transplant Setup Project  I noted that creating capability to grow plants from seed and create my own transplants would be an alternative to buying transplants from the garden store.  Also I would be creating more a of yield in my zone 1. These are two functions.
  • For the Plant Rye Grass for a Mulch Project , I noted that doing this would provide erosion control, improve the soil and create mulch material. These are three functions.
  • For the Canning Local Produce Project, I noted this would allow me to use more local produce.  This project would create an alternative to store-bought products (diversity). I would be increasing the yield in my zone 1. I also would be increasing my stored yield. These are four functions.

So here is how I will rank my projects:

  1. I’m going to work on the projects on my list that are immediately and obviously useful (A Importance level) and easy to do or requiring a little effort (1 and 2 Difficulty level) first.  I’m going to make easy  (small) changes to my life.
  2. I’m going to choose to work on the projects that offer many functions and integrate with my existing systems first.
  3. Finally as discussed above, I’m going to choose to work on projects that fill in my gaps first.  This would mean that canning local produce (which would fill two gap areas: buy from a local source and catch and store at home) would be a better choice for me now than planting the blueberries (which would fulfill two function which I already have covered:  increase plant diversity and increase yield and storage). I won’t be looking at projects that cut food waste since my score there is already very high. Once I have a project or two that addresses each area, (which gives me a score of 1 across the board) then I’ll choose a new set of projects (to try to give me a score of 2 across the board).

So enough with the tables and on to the projects!

Also see: My First Project List and Last Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List

My First Projects List

Without doing any detailed analysis of functions and elements, all the reading I’ve done has given me a preliminary list of projects to undertake. Here is my first project list:

Explorations Into Permaculture Projects List
Project Leverage Point Priorities Importance Difficulty Timing
Begin growing transplants myself E A 1 spring
Canning of locally grown produce E A 1
Solar Panels E A 3
Monitor energy use using fuel bills and existing meters C A 1
Plant rye grass for mulch C A 2 fall
Cherry Tree Guild C A 2 fall
Blueberries C A 2 fall
Purchase Rocket Stove C B 1
Drying of locally grown produce C B 1
Elderberries C B 2 fall
Ducks C C 2
Chickens C C 2
Bees C C 2 must order by February
Thermal window Shades – west window A A 2
Thermal window Shades – north window A A 2
Thermal window Shades
– east window
A A 2
Purchase 2 months extra provisions A B 1
Wood Storage A B 2

Here is a link to the table as a PDF: project list 081111 for blog.  How did I create this?

After listing the projects that are floating around in my head, I assessed the importance and difficulty as discussed in the Evaluation Matrix from Powering Down.  They suggest that one asses difficulty using a four point scale (1-4) in this way:

1.  A project that we can easily do, resources readily available.

2. A project we can do, but it will take some effort to get the resources.

3. A project we could do, but it would be a serious challenge.

4. A project that for one reason or another is out of reach for the moment.

They suggest the following scale for assessing importance:

A. The project is  immediately and obviously useful for us now.

B. The project could be useful given certain changes we expect in the near term.

C. The project might be useful if circumstances were to change significantly.

D. The project is useless or irrelevant to us at this moment.

Finally, I used the A-F rating system to assess the degree of leverage as I detailed in my earlier post, Moving From Pattern to Details part 2. For example:

  • Developing a way to grow my own transplants in my zone 1 rather than buying store-bought transplants (grown who knows where) is a way of evolving the system structure, substituting local producers for long distance ones (F).
  • Monitoring my energy use and the actions I take to impact my energy use is a way to increase my access to feedback by creating a new feedback loop (C).
  • Enhancing my ability to create good compost by adding and harvesting rye grass, strengthens a balancing feedback loop. (C).
  • While both storing dried produce and canning increase my available food storage and cut losses of yield (C), canning substitutes a local producer (me)  for long distance ones  (E, since I already buy quite a bit of canned food).

I created a table in  an excel spreadsheet and then sorted the projects based on leverage point priority first, then importance then difficulty to come up with a preliminary sequence to follow.  This sequencing strategy is preliminary.

Looking at this  I can see how it is easy to come up with projects that have an A and B leverage point rating.  Its harder to identify projects with  C, D, E and  F ratings.  They are far less obvious.

P.S. I’m no longer stuck.

Also see: More Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List and Last Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List




Moving from Pattern to Details

Well I’ve been on this permaculture home study journey for about 2 months and am about to start my overall design.  I’ve got tons of ideas from my various readings which so far have included:

  • Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, Rosemary Morrow
  • Edible Front Yard, Ivette Solier (from local library) – reviewed in earlier post
  • Perennial Vegetables, Eric Toensmeir (from local library)
  • The Resilient Garden, Carol Deppe
  • about half of Little House on a Small Planet, Shay Salomon & Nigel Valdez
  • and the echo follows – reviewed in earlier post
  • Polyculture Handouts – reviewed in earlier post
  • Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway (from local library)
  • A Forest Garden Pattern Language – excellent resource available from Regenerative Designs.
  • Re localizing Your Urban Lifestyle – excellent resource available here from Joanne Poyourow. I hope to talk more about zones in a later post.
  • How not to play the game – another interesting online article from John Micheal Greer, the author of The Long Descent
  • Online PDC Course – Right now I’m up to the lesson on Soil Ecology

I’ve got a pretty good idea of the various parts of my site analysis, I just haven’t drawn it up yet.

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Before moving forward though, I needed to synthesize all of these learning to better find my process of design. To do this, I looked permaculture design using a systems approach. A simple way of looking at a single natural population would be as a renewable stock (the population of say ducks–since I’m reading the Resilient Gardener) constrained by a renewable stock (food, i.e. corn).  On a given amount of land with the goals of raising ducks and growing corn,the main system components I notice are :

  • the amounts of ducks on the land,
  • the number of  corn plants you have,
  • the rate that the duck population increases and decreases over time,
  • the rate that food supply grows  and is harvested over time,
  • the way that the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population,
  • the way that the carrying capacity of the land constrains the amount of corn available,
  • the way that the corn travels to the population i.e. the place where the transfer between ducks and food takes place.

In permaculture terms we call the amount of food harvested (per amount of land),  the yield.  while we call the place where the transfer of nutrients between the ducks and food occurs, the edge.

I can restate the permaculture principles this way:

  • Produce a yield – Be able to generate a harvest of food for the ducks.
  • Store energy – Since energy is stored in biomass, create a stock or storage of both ducks and available corn.
  • Leverage feedback – A person managing this system would not increase the duck reproduction rate, or number of ducks too sharply, they would eat more corn than could be grown over time  and slowly (or quickly)  both populations would collapse. They would need to watch this carefully.
  • Use renewable resources – If  I fed the ducks from a 50 gallon drum (or whatever volume drum) of store-bought dried corn, the duck population would crash when I ran out of food.  If I grow the food, I can support some level of a  sustainable duck population  based on the amount of corn harvested basically forever.
  • No waste – If you consider the duck poop as an ingredient of the compost pile, the poop would make the land more fertile and increase the corn yield.  The system that  consisted of 2 stocks before, would grow to three stocks: ducks, corn plants and compost.
  • Patterns – for this analysis I’m analyzing this duck/food system  using the pattern of a renewable stock constrained by a separate renewable stock.
  • Reciprocity /integration – As this simple 2  function/2 stock system becomes more complex  and integrated (by adding the composting function), it becomes more productive.
  • Diversity – If  I add different types of ducks (or even chickens) or  different types of duck foods,( corn, duck chow, and squash)  to the system, it becomes more stable. If insects destroy one type of food , the others would still remain and be able to feed the ducks.
  • Small and slow – Sharp changes to the growth rate of the ducks or decreases to the harvest rate  for the corn will cause the system to crash. Small and slow changes are preferable. Systems especially living systems can produce some unintended consequences particularly when time delays hide consequences.
  • Embrace change – Over time, natural systems change, growing more and more complex. As more integration occurs, more populations can be added to the overall system increasing the overall yield.

Knowing all of this, how do you grow  a more stable population over time? Well, it follows you can (not in any particular order):

  1. Make changes to the system to increase the production rate (of the food).
  2. Make changes to the system to reduce decreases in yield due to losses (like the loss of corn due to spoilage).
  3. Increase the number of functions provided (from raising food and raising ducks to doing these two things plus creating compost)
  4. Increase the number of elements you have in the system producing a yield (from just corn to corn, slugs and rainwater from the roof– all of these would support  the food/duck system)
  5. Substitute local producers for non local ones (to conserve energy)
  6. Substitute renewable producers for non-renewable ones
  7. Increase the  diversity of elements included and products (stocks) created
  8. Introduce small and slow changes to reduce oscillations
  9. Increase stocks over time through succession
  10. Re-consider wastes as “foods” for  other  system elements (View problems as unfilled niches.)
  11. Monitor and reconfigure  edges so that transfers can happen more easily and efficiently
  12. Create and check new feedback loops.

I can use all of these methods to change my suburban property to one based on permaculture principles.  On a given amount of land (my property) with the primary functions of heating, cooling, creating electricity, raising food, recycling and capturing water, for my property I’ll look at:

  • my desired stocks of money, energy, skills, biodiversity and recyclable materials and the yields of these stocks
  • the  elements I’ll use to generate these yields , (like the number of ducks and corn plants)
  • the rates that these stocks are created and degraded
  • the factors that constrain my use  of these stocks (like  the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population).
  • the key locations of the transfers

More about this in Moving from Patterns to Details part 2.