Author: Bucket Von Harmony
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #143
The global community is facing a serious ecological problem. Unless we change our way of living we may be passing on to our children a world with rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and disrupted ecosystems. According to governmental studies done in the UK and EU, a global average temperature increase of over 3 degrees Celsius would cause irreversible changes to our environment, the effects of which may include a potential rise of the sea level of up to 7 meters and widespread water and food shortages.
Nathan Rive of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo says that if we are to have any chance of preventing the average temperature from increasing over 2 degrees, “we would have to cut global emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”
How can we stop consuming resources and producing carbon at such high levels? Is it possible to do so and still maintain the level of comfort that we have in modern life? Are we willing to make the changes necessary, when the ultimate effects of our actions (or inaction) will not manifest until decades from now? We have the technology now that can help, but investment in these technologies on a massive scale is needed immediately if we hope to see the changes we need in place in time to make a difference. Government programs like carbon taxes might help motivate our industries to pollute less. However, in places like the European Union and the UK where such laws have been enacted, carbon reduction is still falling short of their goals. In addition, the US is the largest producer of carbon emissions per capita and is currently without comprehensive carbon emission regulations.
Don’t give up hope yet! There exists today a solution that could drastically reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of the modern citizen, and it does not require new technology or a drastic reduction in quality of life. It is not anything new or complex; in fact it is something we all learned in Kindergarten. It is called sharing.
Case in Point: Twin Oaks Community
The bylaws of my home, Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, list ecological sustainability as just one of the many purposes of our community’s existence. The primary intention of our community at its founding was to create a culture of cooperation, sharing, and equality. We certainly do care about ecological sustainability and hold many discussions on how we could do better. However, we have put most of our energy into finding ways to live cooperatively, communally, and comfortably.
Only 10 percent of our residents are grid-electricity-free, we have no buildings built with cob or strawbale, and we live with most of the comforts of modern life. Despite our lack of green technologies and our lifestyle of modern conveniences, members of our community consume far less resources than those in our neighborhood, in some cases by over 80 percent less!
Below is a breakdown of our resource consumption and how it compares to that of other people in our climate.
The average Virginia resident uses about 530 gallons of gasoline per year.(1)
Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gasoline in 2007.
With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 159 gallons per person.
That is 70 percent less gasoline consumed!
The average Virginia resident uses 13,860 kWh of electricity per year.(2)
Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007.
With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 2792 kWh per person.
That is 80 percent less electricity consumed!
The average Virginia natural gas consumer uses 302 therms of natural gas.(3)
Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007.
With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 169 therms per person.
That is 44 percent less natural gas consumed!
The average American produces 1460 pounds of trash a year.
Twin Oaks produced 18,780.00 pounds of solid waste in 2007.
With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our production at 196 pounds per person.
That is 87 percent less solid waste produced!
Twin Oaks Community has a fleet of 12 vehicles that we share between all our members. Each day one person runs into town to collect the day-to-day needs for us all. They also ferry people to their various destinations like doctor appointments or the library. By sharing our vehicles and carpooling, we are able to drastically reduce the amount of gasoline we use.
We all live in nine communal houses, each with different norms and culture. We use carbon-neutral wood to heat our houses. By sharing common space and having dormitory style housing, we consume much less energy to light and heat our homes than we would if we were to live in individual houses.
We serve lunch and dinner each day in a single building for our whole community. We are able to use much less energy to cook our food when we are using one kitchen to feed 90 people than we would if we each cooked our own meals.
What food and general necessities we do not produce ourselves, we buy in bulk. Because of this we greatly reduce the amount of packaging that comes onto our property. We send much less solid waste to the local landfill then we would if we were each to purchase our goods in individually wrapped packages.
By sharing so much we are able to live comfortably, but also greatly reduce our resource consumption and carbon output. Government programs and new technologies will be important in reducing our culture’s output of carbon into the atmosphere, but there are things that we as individuals can do today to significantly reduce our contribution to global climate change.
Here are a few examples:
1. Join a food co-op! Use your collective buying power to save money, while also reducing the packaging and energy used to deliver your food to your table. If there is not one in your area, start one! www.coopdirectory.org.
2. Carpool and ride-share when traveling! www.craigslist.org or www.rideshare-directory.com.
3. Join a housing co-op! Share a house with other like-minded souls, and share food costs and cook communal dinners together. You will save much more money and resources over living alone! directory.ic.org/records/coops.php.
4. Join an intentional community! There are thousands of communities out there with varying degrees of resource sharing and cooperation. ic.org.
5. Join an egalitarian community! Pool your income together with other folks to live a more sustainable and equitable life with your neighbors. Share resources to reduce your carbon footprint! theFEC.org.
6. Do you already live communally? Do an energy audit and see how your community is doing compared to others that live in your climate. Publish this information and let people know how effective cooperation and sharing is as a tool to battle climate change! Please send copies of your energy audits to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As times get harder, people will be looking for alternatives to our unsustainable economic model. We do need to look towards technology to help us and we do need our governments to regulate industry and lower emissions. These are issues of national and international politics and are beyond the reach of the average person.
However, by sharing more with members of our communities, we really can make significant and meaningful difference in our personal impact on the environment. We have the power to turn this crisis into an opportunity. By being examples for others to follow, perhaps we can make the necessary changes our world needs…one community at a time.
1. www.nationalpriorities.org/nppdatabase_tool (comparing 2005 numbers to our 2007 numbers)