Saturday, July 14, 2007

Confronting my own Hypocrisy

For quite a while now, I've been wishing we could invest in solar panels and have been gently attempting to convince my husband that this would be a wonderful thing. The obvious problem is that they're so darned expensive, but the biggest obstacle I face is that because of the kind of science Jim does, he understands just how inefficient they still are, and well, he's a bottom line kind of guy.

So, as I read through CG's blog the other day and compared our electric bill to both the national average and the target 90% reduction kwh, I about had a heart attack. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

Our home is run entirely on electric from our heat pump to our hot water heater to our cooktop. We heat as much as we can in the winter with wood and this fall plan to install a woodstove in the basement family room we've been finishing off along with a new air intake for the heat pump to circulate already warmed air with the fan to maximize that efficiency. In fact, we've done lots of little things, like installing all compact fluorescents downstairs and many upstairs as well where they will fit. We keep our heat pump set at 65 in the winter and 78 in the summer when we choose to put the air conditioning on as a respite from the heat and humidity outside. I've planted fruit trees on the south side of the house and trumpet creeper vines on the brick house itself to help moderate the summer temperatures. We've done things—really we have—and were, in fact, even feeling pretty good about our efforts. Until the other day, that is, when I was given a number to actually put it all in perspective.

At first my reaction was incredulity. Like maybe my kwh were somehow different than those they were talking about on the national average. Next was my attempt to rationalize it away because of course those people with the low kwh are using oil and gas, so really it's like comparing apples and oranges. Then came the renewed and more desperate enthusiasm for solar—yeah, yeah, solar was the answer.

And so came the inevitable discussion with Jim yet again about the possibility of converting to solar and the inevitable objections, all of which are perfectly rational. (Jim is always perfectly rational.)

So, I entered the final stage: depression. The forced acceptance of the fact that we use too much electricity from an electric company that draws 95% of its power from coal, and there was little to nothing I could do about it.

That lasted about a day before I was forced to face my own hypocrisy. You see, I really am no better than Al Gore. Well, our numbers aren't that bad, but I felt the same sense of hypocrisy—of speaking green and thinking green but not really living green. Or, at least, not as green as I would like.

Once I was able to face this, to own up to and acknowledge my own inconvenient truth, I found myself able to move forward and make the difficult decisions. I realized that here I had been lamenting our inability to switch to solar as the kill-switch on my green dreams. Because how could we make that next step without spending a lot of money on expensive solar retrofitting?

What I was forced to acknowledge to myself, though, is that my desire for solar really has less to do with living a more green lifestyle and more to do with being able to live my current lifestyle with impunity. Solar was a panacea: it was not only a get out of jail free card but a keep on breaking the law as much as you want card. Solar represented a way for us to avoid making the really tough choices and relinquishing the little luxuries we've all come to expect like soft laundry.

While I've always hung our sheets and beach towels on the line to dry, we've all resisted hanging clothes because of the crunch. The time I tried drying the bath towels on the line, the kids silently mutinied by putting the crunchy ones directly into the laundry and grabbing a nice, soft, electric-dried one out of the closet. I don't use any chemical fabric softeners or anything; there's just something about the tumbling and forced hot air that fluffs the towels and softens the jeans so nicely.

But now, I'm on a mission. I've enlisted the kids' help, and they've agreed. Now, I've admitted to myself that I already have solar power, but that I've been steadfastly refusing to use it. A choice. A choice that I have consciously changed to bring our energy efforts more in line with our efforts in other areas like food and water and waste.

So, I've committed to washing only in cold water and using my solar-powered clothes dryer as a large step towards reducing household energy consumption. I've confronted my own hypocrisy, my own inconvenient truths, and I've moved forward in an empowering direction even if it chafes a bit. I feel more crunchy on the inside by being just a little more crunchy on the outside. But no one said it was easy being green.


Family of Four said...

We found our solar panels on Craigslist for a bargain. Many friends and neighbors have received bids for 25-40K, but we did it for less than 7K (hubby did labor and learned A LOT), after rebates, tax incentives. About the clothes, I dry at night when warm outside. Clothes are dry by morning, and I haven't had a crunchy problem. A small amount of vinegar in the wash acts as a natural fabric softener too. You go green girl!

Madeline said...

Well alright Danielle! I was also inspired in the last few days to start hanging everything out again too. I used to do it until the clothes line broke and then I got lazy. I will hang dry everything but the towels. The crunch is unbearable to me only in the towels. Don't you love the smell of air dried sheets?

karl said...

we struggle against time and storms. sometimes clothes get drenched and need to be re-washed. you might try bringing the clothes in and putting them in the drier on fluff for a few min. it can help.

Christy said...

I've been drying all mine and Logan's clothes on our drying rack. I use vinegar in the rinse cycle, I've converted my old Downy ball into a vinegar ball. I will something put them in the dryer for a few minutes on no heat after I bring them in, it seems to uncrunch them soom, but mostly we've adjusted to the crunchy, they are only really crunchy for the first 10 minutes or so that you are wearing them. I do dry Mark's clothes and our bath towels in the dryer still. But now instead of running the dryer 4 times a week, I run it once a week because I combine all the clothes that aren't dried on the rack into one drier load.

Christy said...

Oh yeah, my husband is always perfectly rational too, it's annoying ins't it?

the Contrary Goddess said...

This is perhaps the most honest and inspiring post ever! See, I really think people ought to run the numbers. To see. And I do think the "numbers". as they are, are not "fair" to all electric households.

And some of us use some "extra" energy to do things like can, which in the end greatly reduces energy consumption.

But . . .

I think clothes dryers are the worst and don't (and won't) own one. And I don't even have hot water hooked up to my washer, but after a summer of doing clothes by hand in various ways, I do have a washer again.

And I think you husband is right about solar. It is great for what it works for, but if you can get your numbers (Kwh) down to where you could really use solar, then using the grid just isn't a big issue. And you have to factor in the waste and pollution to generate solar panels and especially the batteries.

I really encourage everyone to run those numbers and see where you are, but also realize where those numbers fail -- where they do not penalize new consumers enough and where they do not reward those who produce for themselves enough.

Danielle said...

Thanks to all for your tips and support! We've all been feeling pretty great about our decision and are looking forward to our next bill to calculate the savings.

Honestly, I don't know that we could manage a 90% reduction in many or even any of the categories listed in Riot for Austerity. Austerity clashes with our hedonist goals of living the good life with delicious, slow food we've raised and prepared ourselves.

Raising animals and vegetables takes water, much of which we harvest, but the weather doesn't always cooperate. Preparing and preserving food takes energy that doesn't neatly fit into the 90% rules. As CG points out, the resources required to raise and prepare food don't get factored into the Riot's bottom line. But the issues are so complex and variables so many that trying to calculate and compare the costs of self-sufficiency versus buying local versus buying conventional makes my head spin.

So, we do what we can and then we try to do even more, which perhaps is what the 90% challenge is really all about—digging deeper and cutting deeper than we thought we could, about rooting out complacency and asking the tough questions.

I do think the 90% challenge is an interesting one, but one whose parameters are perhaps better suited to urban folk who are making a difference in a different way.

Jenny said...

Hey there Danielle. First, I just have to ask, isn't there anyone else out there like me who LOVES the feel of rough, line-dried towels on my body? It feels so good--like a good salt scrub. I can't stand towels that are dried in a dryer with Downy or the like because I don't feel like they actually DRY me off! They just sort of move the water around on my skin. I don't own a dryer, but if I did and there was no energy consequence to using it, I would still dry my towels on the line. But my jeans and all those pesky socks would go in the dryer, lol.

And you might feel better to know that although we are off the grid, we are currently plugged in to my FIL's house next door because we just butchered two lambs and don't have the freezer space so we had to plug in our AC chest freezer. We're hoping to move it out pretty soon but there are just those times when producing your own food takes more energy in the home.

Of course, I have been pondering lately how we would preserve all our food without any fossil fuel use (thinking in terms of The Long Emergency). Without refrigeration we'd have to get used to fermented dairy products in a big hurry! And no freezer means no fresh meat whenever we want it, no frozen fruits and veggies, no ice cream.

Add the homeschooled kids into the mix and you've got a whole new set of priorities that conflict with the austerity agenda.

We struggle with it too, big time.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Jenny, I'm with you on the towels! I also have kefir that is new to us so fermented AND alcoholic! And we salt meat now, our grandparents did too. I'd like to keep the freezers, sure, and my guess is, we'll be able to.

I also love the hedonist thing.

Danielle said...

Geez, Jenny, I'm really glad I didn't make that snarky comment I was considering about folk like No Impact Man who went off grid by keeping his cooler's freezer packs in a neighbor's fridge (though he's done away with that convenient cheat, I guess). :-p~~~~

I know what you mean about contemplating how we'd live if the world went dark, so to speak. I think about that often as I'm out in the morning, watering and caring for the animals. So much of what we do—getting water out to the animals on pasture, for starters—relies on electricity and gasoline: electricity to pump the water out of the well and gasoline to get the barrels out into the fields.

Still, I figure we'd be in a better position than most folks, and we're pretty darned resourceful and knowledgeable and unafraid of hard work.

Woody said...

My wife had a great idea for line drying socks that we use now,,, a fish basket hung on the line. It has the spring loaded top and bottom, so loading and unloading is simple. We just have to shake it up every now and then. Much easier than hanging each sock,,,and no my feet don't smell like fish.

Danielle said...

Too funny, Woody. I love hearing everyone's little tricks!

We don't wear many socks around here, so it's not that big a deal, and my one child refuses to wear underwear, so that cuts down even more on the little stuff. What gets me is the washcloths and fingertip towels we use instead of paper towels. A load of those quickly uses up my three lines, and I start clipping them to the bottoms of other towels.

I have noticed that our cloth napkins come out so crisp and fold nice and flat, almost as if I'd ironed them. Bonus!

We haven't done bath towels yet, though they're coming due soon. That'll be the big test of our resolve. *g* Seriously, though, I'll try the vinegar trick with them. The clothes really haven't been that crunchy at all, and I think Jules even put on jeans yesterday, and the synthetic stuff doesn't get a bit of crunch to it.

Wendy said...

My husband gets all rational on me, too. I SO wanted solar panels ... still do, and he's all practical. Every time I talk to him about the cost goes up ;). I don't know how he refigures it as more expensive every time I bring it up.

So, I'm doing what you're doing, and that's to try cutting my usage rather than changing my source of power.

Of course, I've run up against Mr. Logical with that project, too. I want a cold closet for keeping things cool ... not refrigerator cold, but cool enough that they won't spoil ... and a root cellar or something like it for all of our storage crops tht we have no place for except the freezer or refrigerator. I figure, if we can reduce our dependence on those two appliances, we can reduce our electrical bill by a LOT.

I love my low-tech, solar dryer! It's the best, and I use my electric dryer about once a month, and that's only if we get several consecutive days of rain. I even used the clothesline during the winter ... I'm in Maine ;).

CG said...

I think the real point of the rational men is that in order to change your source of power, you'd HAVE to cut your usage -- so cut your usage first, then the drive to alternative energy isn't such a big one.

piecesofscrap said...

I LOVE the crunch of the towels! It makes drying off so much better. Also, I know you said you don't use fabric softener...but for those who do: Fabric softener makes the towels less able to absorb water.

A good way to get rid of the "crunch" in your clothes is to shake them out a couple times while you are folding them.

And there is NOTHING like the smell of clothes after they have just come off the clothes line. Ahhhhhhhhhhh :)

Good luck in reducing your use of electricity.