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How Sustainable is Twin Oaks?

Twin Oaks is an established income sharing community in central Virginia of 93 adults and 15 children.  Now located on a 450 acre farm, the commune operates 6 businesses, grows most of its own food–organically–builds it’s own buildings, teaches it’s own kids, and repairs it’s own appliances and vehicles.

Welcome to the Community

Welcome to the Community

Here is some of the mainstream and alternative media coverage of us:

Central to the community’s operation is the idea of sharing resources.  Twin Oaks has developed robust systems for sharing cars, bikes, clothes and businesses.  These systems are in sharp contrast to the casual sharing practiced in the mainstream where brittle agreements generally lead to failure.

Turns out to be quite difficult to take good pictures of Commie Clothes

Turns out to be quite difficult to take good pictures of Commie Clothes

One of the many advantages of sharing resources is dramatically reducing our negative ecological effect and carbon footprint.  The numbers below demonstrate we are already near the 80% reduction in carbon emissions that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is recommending by the year 2050.

[Note: It is unclear if the below numbers include our income generating businesses or not.  My guess is they do, and thus we are even more sustainable.  But i will check and indicate here what is true.]

Gasoline: The average Virginia resident uses about 530 gallons per year. Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gas in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of population of 96, that would put our consumption at 159 gallons per person. That is 70% less gasoline consumed.

gas pump noozle

Electricity: The average Virginia resident uses 13,860 kWh of Electricity per year. Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our consumption at 2,792 kWh per person. That is 80% less electricity consumed.

These numbers pre-date our installation of a 10 kW solar panel array

These numbers pre-date our installation of a 10 kW solar panel array

Natural Gas: The average household in Virginia uses 767 therms of natural gas. Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007. With an adult population on average of 87 adults, that would put our consumption at 186 therms per person. That is 76% less natural gas consumed.

Solid Waste: The average American produces 1,460 pounds of trash a year. Twin Oaks produced 18,780.00 pounds of solid waste in 2007. With an adult & child population on average of 96, that would put our production at 196 pounds per person. That is 87% less solid waste produced.

The cultural aspects of community life are as important as the economic ones.  We develop our own holidays.  Almost all our operations are run by volunteers.  We don’t use money internally and there is effectively no crime.

The cast and director of Freegantown

The cast and director of Freegantown

In many ways , the community is an island, culturally and economically separate from it’s immediate surroundings.  This cooperative model, however, is one of the very few solutions that can actually avoid the climate catastrophe the US is hurtling toward at breakneck speeds.

The original data for comparing Twin Oaks with US average consumption of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and solid waste were researched by Alexis Ziegler of Living Energy Farm.

An opportunity for your dark green friend

Perhaps there is this type of person in your life, they are unusually principled, comfortable with hard work and they likely think most people are not going far enough to personally work on saving the environment.  They might have principal objections to flying, a vegan diet or live off the grid.  People and groups which adopt these reasonable, but oft seen as extreme positions i sometimes refer to as “dark green“.  I worked in a Czech dark green groups office.  It was many floors of steps to walk up, i did not know for 3 years that there was an elevator in the building.   You know the type.

Living Energy Farm is an ambitious and challenging project.  Essentially preparing for a post petroleum world, while it can still be done relatively comfortably.  However they are using a prefigurative approach, in which we model the practices which will be used in the resource-scarce future.  This means lots of things by hands, living closer to the seasons and nightfall, and thinking about how to reduce one’s impact seriously.

Below is Living Energy Farms latest Newsletter.

21st century camp fire

21st century camp fire

Living Energy Farm
July, August, September 2014 Newsletter

Living Energy Farm Needs You!

Have you ever thought about helping Living Energy Farm? Well, now we have a warm, dry place for you to stay. After the relentless cold and wet of last winter, facing the prospect that our project could come to a halt this winter, we worked with our supporters to gain the use of a house in the town of Louisa, one mile from LEF. (We call the house Magnolia, in honor of the massive Magnolia tree in the yard.) This will allow us to keep the project moving through the coming cold months. If you have any carpentry or mechanical skills, that’s great. If not, we can still use your help. Now we can offer you a warm bed. Much better than a tent in winter!

We are, in all honesty, stretched pretty thin right now. With Debbie and Alexis expecting their new baby any time now [Nikita has been born and both mom and kid are healthy - Paxus] we are trying to bring in the harvest, keep construction moving, and take care of the daily necessities of life. In our last newsletter, we put out a call for support. The response was tremendous. We have had numerous people come by and pitch in. That has been a huge help! Now with Magnolia in place, we can support more people through the winter. We have a lot to learn from each other. Consider giving us a visit! If we are slow to communicate, be patient. We have our hands pretty full.

Barn Raising, post petroleum style

Barn Raising, post petroleum style

Earthheart

Our main house at LEF, Earthheart, is coming along. We have it “dried in,” meaning the roof, windows, doors, and sheathing are done, so the building can go through the winter without damage. Thanks to some glorious volunteer crews from our local Louisa Baptist Church and the APO Service Fraternity of UVA, the first coat of exterior stucco is largely done. The interior framing is complete. Most of the wiring for our DC electrical system is done. We still need to do some plumbing, and get the ductwork in place for the solar heating system. Once those utilities are in place, we can put in the ceiling, and the strawbales, then push to completion! We will have a strawbale workshop sometime in the next few months. We will post a note to our lists when that time comes.

Seeds

Our seed harvest is almost finished for the year. This year our crops included corn, okra, watermelons, peppers, squash, and eggplant. We have “contracts” for each of these crops. These contracts are a non-binding agreements we make with the seed companies to produce a certain amount of seed. We will make almost all of our contracts this year, and we will have a significant surplus of some crops/ seeds.

Right livelihood, close to the earth

Right livelihood, close to the earth

This year we also contracted with seed companies to do variety trials of sweet corn and tomatoes. A variety trial consists of growing many different varieties (usually a few dozen) under identical conditions to compare yield, flavor, disease/insect resistance, and other factors. Our trials included many heirloom favorites, a few hybrids, and some new varieties coming from open-pollinated plant breeders across the country. Variety trials are a new and exciting line of work for us. They are the first step in the research and development of the best quality open pollinated varieties for organic conditions in our area. We are excited about pursuing this work in more depth next year, and maybe doing some breeding work as well, in cooperation with our friends at Common Wealth Seed Growers (www.commonwealthseeds.com).

Persimmons
We started picking our first cultivated fruits from trees we grafted on the land just 3 years ago. The photo is of Rosa, our youngest member, holding Yates persimmons. The Ruby persimmons also made a good handful of fruit this year, though they are not ripe yet. Yummy!

People’s Climate March — New York City

Several of us from LEF went to New York City to attend to the People’s Climate March on Sept 21. (Lovely train ride.) We tried to get near the front of the march to hand out flyers and talk to people as they marched by, but we never found the front of the march. After many hours of handing our flyers and talking to people, we never saw the end of the march. Any guesses about number of people attending can only be guesses. Manhattan was swarmed by protesters. One of our supporters in the city made us a beautiful banner and sandwich boards. (I wore one that said “I am Building a Community that Runs Without Fossil Fuel.) A LOT of people were interested in our project. We conducted more than a half dozen interviews with independent film makers, handed our flyers, and spoke to hundreds of people.

PeoplesClimateMarch-balloon.jpg.650x0_q85_crop-smart

The march was huge, diverse, impassioned — a beautiful display of the desire for a better world. As throngs of students, religious groups, and countless organizations chanting slogans about ending fossil fuel dependency passed by, I was deeply struck by how little understanding exists among the public of exactly what that means. After the march, numerous commentators have made the point that while it is was clear what the march was opposed to, it was not clear what it was in favor of. We feel like LEF is a answer to many of the problems caused by fossil fuel, and that is not a small matter. But we cannot expect important truths to magically transmit themselves. Corporations sell their products by communicating in multiple medias at the same time. We have to do something similar — keep talking about our important truths, over and over again. The most important thing you can do is to start taking your own life in the direction of fossil fuel sobriety, and talking to your friends about it. If we can help you do that, let’s see what we can teach each other. Life without fossil fuel is not hard, but we have to show people. We have to convince them. We will have to keep working on that for a long time to come.

Living Energy Farm is a project to build a demonstration farm, community, and education center in Louisa County that uses no fossil fuels. For more information see our website www.livingenergyfarm.org, or contact us at livingenergyfarm@gmail.com. Donations are tax deductible.

Pinkwash

The Facebook thread was incredulous.  Several people were completely convinced it was a joke.  How could a group fighting breast cancer be taking money from a company which sells fracking fluids and services (an activity known to cause cancer)?

But not only is it not a joke, it has been going on for a couple years now and until recently no one was paying attention.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation is this nations largest breast cancer fighting organization.  They have been happily taking $100K per year from oil extraction company Baker Hughes.

understandably unbelievable

understandably unbelievable

But for those who have been tracking the Komen Foundation’s political evolution, this should be no surprise.  In 2012, Komen chose to stop funding Planned Parenthood (PP), because they were “under investigation.” This was a thin rouse, which was quickly revealed for what it was, an effort by the conservative leadership of Komen to strike at PP because it provides abortion services.  The investigation consisted of trumped up charges by similarly motivated House Republicans, and it went nowhere.

fashionable corporate giving

fashionable corporate giving

But Komen’s plans to defund PP exploded in their face in a stunning way.  Individual contributions to Komen dropped dramatically.  In the fiscal year in which they made this mistake they lost $77 million over the previous year’s funding, representing 22% of their total income.  Komen reversed its choice to defund PP after only 3 days, but the damage was already done.

Fierce Backlash

Fierce Backlash

There are other problems with Komen.  Specifically, only 20% of the donations they receive go to breast cancer research.  Over 50% go to educational programs.  If you know the non-profit world, it is far easier to hide bloated salaries and bogus programming under the “education” category than under research.  And many critics think research is more important than education at this point.

And thus we add “Pinkwash” to our vocabulary.  As Baker Hughes produces 1,000 pink drill bits to promote their campaign,  there is now a petition to get Komen to reverse their choice, as they did so quickly with their PP foolishness.

Perhaps Komen has outlived its usefulness or is unreformable as an organization, and like Monsanto and Siemens nuclear division, it is time for it to die.

October is Umbrella Revolution

The pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong have been labeled by an excited mainstream media “The Umbrella Revolution”, despite the organizers distaste for the name.  They say they do not want a full revolution and they are a civil disobedience movement.  But as this month may well show, they have every capacity to become a major transformative effect on totalitarian mainland China.

If you have never been to Hong Kong it is a bit hard to describe.  I was there for a week in 1991.  It was the first place i saw someone talking on two cell phones at the same time.  Even over 20 years ago, this model of laissez-faire capitalism was running at 120% of the speed of Manhattan, with neon lights which more than rivaled it.  It is the only developed place that i have been which has virtually no zoning controls.  Sky rises host hair salons beside meat packing facilities beside student hostels.  But for over a century it has been an occupied land, first by the British who installed their provincial governors, then by the Chinese who want to continue to control the slate of candidates for governor in the 2017 elections, the first elections since independence in 1997.

One of many logos for the Umbrella Revolutions

It is called the Umbrella Revolution for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it is a collection of groups working together, starting with the Occupy Central with Peace and Love group, which was originally mostly academics and students.  The second is that protesters have been using umbrellas to hold back both the seasonal rains and the pepper spray of the police.

Size matters - transformative protests, their fraction of youth and number

Size matters – transformative protests, their fraction of youth and number

One of the questions that rolls through the minds of some activists is “How powerful is the Occupy name?”  My personal impression is that it is quite valuable, especially if you consider anyone dedicated to non-violence can use it.  Besides the current important protests in Hong Kong (partly organized by Occupy Central) there are numerous other Occupy affiliated groups doing all manner things.  One of my personal favorites is “Strike the Debt” which has purchased at cut rates student loans, which just paid slight me over $100K to cancel over $2 million in US student debt.  I’ve written about the San Francisco’s Occupy Housing which reclaims foreclosed properties for the original tenants.

The mainstream media often dismisses the Occupy movement as failed and chaotic.  What is actually true is that Occupy has inspired actions around the world, some of which are collapsing repressive regimes.  Let’s hope the Umbrella Revolution can wrestle control from the plutocrats in Beijing.

For poor weather and bad police

For poor weather and bad police

Crowds swelled to over 100K people despite the often challenging weather and challenging reprisals.

Should Japan Restart it’s Reactors?

Japan was the third largest nuclear power in the world, with 50 operating reactors on March 10th, 2011.  Then the 3/11/11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit, leading to 3 meltdowns and 5 other reactors being crippled or permanently decommissioned.  There are now 42 reactors in Japan which could theoretically be restarted.  For technical and political reasons they have all been idle for the last year.

Should Japan restart these reactors?  At first the answer might seem an obvious yes.  These reactors represented almost 30% of the countries generating capacity.  Without them, as the Abe government has claimed the economy will suffer as will the environment.  Without them, as the nuclear utilities have claimed, there will be blackouts and brownouts.   Except that has not been what has happened.

From Greenpeace Happy First Nuclear Free Birthday Report

From Greenpeace Happy First Nuclear Free Birthday Report

Despite a significant increase in fossil fuel use for energy generation, the total CO2 emissions have only increased minimally (on the order of 8% in 2010 to 2012).  This is because overall energy use is way down through energy efficiency and conservation and CO2 emissions have also been mitigated by renewables coming online.

Nor has the Japanese economy crashed in response to the lack of nuclear power.  In fact in 2012, the first full year after Fukushima, still reeling from the tsunami and earthquake, and with most of it’s nuclear fleet shut down,  Japan had it’s highest recorded GDP ever.

How is this possible?

Japan fuel replacement

The short answer is Japan has dramatically changed it’s relationship with energy.  In the last year when it has been fully nuclear free, it has put in place conservation and efficiency programs that are replacing 13 reactors worth of power.  In addition generous feed in tariffs are inspiring both home owners and businesses to install renewable sources of energy and this has amounted to another 3 reactors worth of power being saved.  At this rate in just 2 more years all the reactors capacity will be replaced.  So given how the last few years have been, why dont we just wait and see.  As many other countries have delayed nuclear projects including Bangladesh, Jordan, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Vietnam.

 

Japan renewable growth

So it turns out the not at all obvious answer (given the government and utilities mistatements) is that seismically and volcanically active Japan is better off leaving all it’s reactors turned off.   It is better off economically, environmentally and in terms of energy services. This is also what 59% of the Japanese public want.

But, sadly, this is nothing like a done deal.   These reactors represent hundreds of billions of dollars in investments for the nuclear utilities.  The nuclear utilities and the Abe administration have no intention of giving them up without a fight.   This is possibly the biggest industrial fight in the history of the planet.  A back of the napkin calculation is that these reactors have several trillion US dollars worth of life in them.  Only big wars are more expensive.

Much of the data and all of the charts for this report come from the excellent new Greenpeace “Nuclear Free Japan year one

 

 

 

“The First Ammendment is a little more important than Traffic”

You almost certainly heard about the Climate March last weekend in NYC.  It was a big colorful event.

PCMImage

And while this was important (because it was large – 400K participants, because it was diverse, because it was timely – just before the UN meeting on climate disruption – which did have some accomplishments of its own), it was not as important in my mind as the much smaller protest in NYC on the same issue the next day.

When is 3K > 400K ?  When you close Wall Street

When is 3K > 400K ? When you close Wall Street

Flood Wall Street tried to mimic some of the simplicity of Occupy Wall Street – wear blue and come prepared to stay.  And then a funny thing happened.  The NYC police did not come in and beat up and disperse these street blocking protests.  It could not have hurt that newly elected NYC mayor Bill De Blasio instructing the police to back off the protest.

NYC Mayor De Blasio, some US political hack and the Sec Gen of the UN

NYC Mayor De Blasio, some US political hack and the Sec Gen of the UN – Sept 21

When asked about his participation in the action which blocked the streets around the nations most critical financial district,. De Blasio somewhat amazingly said “I think the First Amendment is a little more important than traffic.”

If you know the NYPD, you know they hate unpermitted persons taking over the street.  They will generally quickly disperse and often attack any unpermitted march or action, if they can.

The police apparently were not excited by the mayor’s orders to not beat up the civil disobedience actions.  Perhaps change is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Tiny Living like?

I like to ask people what surprises them about their recent experience.  Partly, this seems to illicit more thoughtful responses than “What did you like/dislike?”.  It also leads to assumption checking on the interviewee’s part.  Causing the reflection “What did i think was going to happen that did not?”

As seen from outside

As seen from outside

When i asked Emily May what she was surprised by when she moved into her tiny house in Eugene, she thought for quite a while.  “When i first lived here, i was staying with my best friend and it made me think ‘Perhaps this would be too small to live in with a partner’”.

Emily May and blogger in dorm folding chair.

Emily May and blogger in dorm folding chair.

But besides this her reviews were quite positive.  She praised the design, the functionality of the stove, the ability for a single person to have all the room the needed in this 7.5′ by 18′ footprint.

Regardless of it's beauty, is small the future?

Regardless of it’s beauty, is small the future?

She also talked about the power of cleaning.  Because the space is so small, it is quick to clean, and the effect is pervasive.  It kept her materialistic desires in check, since there are not many places to put things.  She had acquired a collection of various sized pillows which replace classical living room furniture.  Over all she was quite pleased with her tiny house experience.

But what is the Tiny House Movement about?  I stole this text from the blog TinyLife.com:

What are Tiny Houses? The Tiny House Movement? Tiny Living?

Simply put it is a social movement where people are downsizing the space that they live in. The typical American home is around 2600 square feet, while the typical small or tiny house is around 100-400 square feet. Tiny Houses come in all shapes, sizes and forms but they focus on smaller spaces and simplified living.

People are joining this movement for many reasons, but the most popular reasons are because of environmental concerns, financial concerns and seeking more time and freedom.  For most Americans 1/3 to 1/2 of their income is dedicated to the roof over their heads; This translates to 15 years of working over your life time just to pay for it and because of it 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

TinyHouses-Infographic

 

 

 

 

 

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