Riot For Austerity — 90% Rules


Welcome to our 90% emissions reduction project. First of all, you’ll notice that we’re using the number 90%, not 93 or 94% – there are a couple of reasons for that, but the first and most important is that the goal is not to drive ourselves crazy. If we’re all going to do this, we need it to be comparatively easy – I think a lot of us will get bored and frustrated if we have to keep complicated logs. But using 1/10 of what is used by the average American makes calculations easier for everyone. I’ve certainly no objection if all of us, or some of us get down even lower, but 90% is still a huge accomplishment – it puts your emissions on par with the average Chinese peasant.

The Rules of the Game are as follows:

1. Everyone can play. Even if you only think you can make a major reduction in a few categories, or 1, or even none, you are invited to join us. Every drop in your emissions is a huge accomplishment, and another person who can stand up and say “I can do it, even without any systemic help – therefore, we can all do it.”

The time period is 1 year – the goal is to reach a 90% reduction (or the best each of us can do) *AND KEEP IT THERE* after 1 year. That is, we’re not dropping our emissions instantly and then going back to business as usual later – the goal is to use this year to figure out what we need to do, what kind of adaptations we need, and how to change things.

Ideally, we’ll all calculate and post our approximate usage right now, as a baseline.

Every week we post an update – you can put yours on your blog (email your blog links to Emme/Miranda at simplereduce [at] charter [dot]net , and she’ll hook you up), or update on the comments section of either of our blogs. Let us know how you are doing, what you are having trouble with, what your numbers are, what you want help with, what your best ideas are.

Otherwise, you are in charge of making choices. We have left categories like health care and housing out of this, on the assumption that you aren’t going to buy a new house, or give up needed medical attention. If you want to include some of these issues, great. If you need to opt out of a category altogether, fine. If you disagree with my assessment, say, of how things should be calculated, certainly tell me – you may have a better method than I do – but you can also feel free to make your calculations differently.

If you live in another country than the US, you’ll have to do your own baseline – it isn’t very hard, and your government websites should have the information. For Canada, Australia and the US, Monbiot’s calculation is that reductions must be above 90%, so you’ll probably want to use the 90% figures with your own national averages. Most of the rich EU nations are in the mid-to-high 80s, and he doesn’t offer figures for other nations. I leave it up to those from other countries to figure out whether they want to try for the 90% reduction ,or choose another number – 80% or 85%.

If you use a renewable or sustainable resource that I haven’t mentioned, email me. I’ll add it to the list.

One of the things I think is most important is that we admit when/how/where we fail. We’re trying to do something very difficult, and we’re doing it without the support that would make this much easier. If there are places where a lot of people can’t accomplish a reduction, this is a good argument for some kind of larger intervention.

Some things will be easy for one of us, but not another. I think food will be easy for my household, but gas a real struggle. Other people might find the opposite.

Ultimately, this is a support network. We’re trying for real and radical change, and also to offer up a model for other people who might want to make these changes. Be kind and be supportive. We have an email group:

Ok, here are the cuts. I’ve done my very best to make this simple. Whenever possible, I have rounded numbers, so that it would be easy to figure out specifics. Also, whenever possible I have used individual usage and short time periods. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been able to find data for shorter periods or for individual usage, in which cases, I’ve put household, or annual figures. This is imperfect science, but you do the best you can – I think it mostly evens out. But final calculations will be made as yearly, household figures. That is, if your spouse has a job and you stay home with the kids, you can give some of your gas allotment over to her for her commute. And if you need a/c 2 months a year to survive, you can cut back more in the winter.

The estimates I’m giving for renewable resources may be controversial. I welcome discussion of the subject, or better guidelines – remember, better, but simple. I’ve tried to be very conservative – that is, I’m trying to err on the side of greater emissions reduction whenever possible. In that interest, I’ve measured, for example, the net energy return of some renewables as much lower than, say, a company that makes them would. For example, I give no credit at all for ethanol or biodiesel, since I think they are no better and perhaps worse. In the end, if you really disagree, feel free to use your own numbers, just explain how you are calculating things.

We’re dividing this into 7 categories. You do the calculation for each one. We’ve included water, even though it isn’t by itself a greenhouse gas problem, because water stress is one of the most serious and immediate consequences of global warming.

If you work out of the home, or spend large quantities of time out of your home, you should include calculations for your work environment, or school environment – % of your time, energy used, divided by number of people using it. Now you may not have much control over this measurement, and if you don’t, I suggest you keep three tallies – one for home energy, one for work energy, and one for your total energy in each relevant category. But the good thing about including your work is that this offers incentives for trying to get your work to be more efficient as well. Who knows, you may fail, but it is worth a try.

Here are the 7 categories:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.

  • No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.
  • Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH

  • Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback – that is, you get twice as many watts.
  • Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods – you get 4 times as many.

3. Heating and Cooking Energy – this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.

  • Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider.
  • US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR
  • Heating Oil (this is used by only about 8% of all US households, mostly in the Northeast, including mine).
  • Average US usage is 750 Gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.
    • Wood. This is a tough one. The conventional line is that wood is carbon neutral, but, of course, wood that is harvested would have otherwise been absorbing carbon and providing forest. There are good reasons to be skeptical about this. So I’ve divided wood into two categories.
    • Locally and sustainably harvested, and either using deadwood, trees that had to come down anyway, coppiced or harvested by someone who replaces every lost tree. This is deemed carbon neutral, and you can use an unlimited supply. This would include street trees your town is taking down anyway, wood you cut on your property and replant, coppiced wood (that is, you cut down some part of the tree but leave it to grow), and standing and fallen deadwood. You can use as much of this as you like.
    • Wood not sustainably harvested, or transported long distances, or you don’t know. 1 cord of this is equal to 15 gallons of oil or 20 therms of natural gas.

4. Garbage – the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.

The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

  • Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out – that is, if someone says, “If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills.
  • Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.

#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly – it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 100 miles to me. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.

#2 is is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pund, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods – conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

Ok, let me know what you think and if you are still in!

One Comment

This has potential, but sounds too drastic….90% really?? How about something more reasonable like, 40%?