Monday, December 29, 2008

The transition house experiment begins.

Yesterday was December 28th 2008 and I was forty years old. Together with my wife I began an experiment called transition house. It’s based on the transition town initiative.

According to a Transition Initiative is a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

For those of us in the west who have grown up for the most part having what we want, when we want, it takes a bit of thinking about. Fortunately we in the west have a model to look to: Cuba. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba's oil imports were cut by more than half and more importantly their food imports by 80 percent.

At the time it seemed like a disaster. But the Cubans made it through what they refer to as the special period by transitioning from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens – working together as a community. And they became a lot healthier along the way. You can read more about this transition at

During this period the average Cuban lost 20 pounds – over nine kilos. I weighed myself yesterday morning and to my horror found that not only was I forty, I was 14 stone and 3 pounds. That’s 199 pounds for the Americans and 90.26 kilos for the Europeans. I should really be about 11 and a half stones - that’s 161 pounds or 73 kilos. So I’m fat. I've got a forty inch belly that I squeeze into 34 inch denim jeans! I need to lose about 38 pounds – 2 stone 10 – over 17 kilos. That's nearly twice as much as the average Cuban lost.

We, and when I say we I mean every one in the whole world, is in big trouble due to climate change. A hell of a lot more trouble than the average politician is going to let on, and we don’t have much time left. I’m not going to go on about it here though. If you want to know more about it head over to or

So what am I going to do? Or rather what are we as a household going to do?

Well basically my wife and I are going to reduce, reuse and recycle, or to put it another way to try and live by the old adage of generations past: waste not want not.

And when I say waste not, I’m not just referring to all the food we chuck out uneaten in Britain, or clothes we chuck out because we don't like the fashion - or we've put on weight. I'm also talking about not wasting carbon and having it float off into the air as carbon dioxide, by buying stuff we don’t need, or has been created with a big carbon footprint. Stuff like crops grown using pesticides or vegetables flown in from Africa. And not wasting carbon by driving to the shops when we don’t need to – you get the picture.

Also, we are so fortunate in Britain to have a clean reliable water supply. I intend to use it wisely. And I intend to create as little waste as possible. We throw too much stuff away and flush too much stuff down the sink – water and chemicals.

So to start off, what is the single biggest thing, apart from reproducing, a human being can do to reduce their carbon footprint? Well according to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals ( the Live Earth global warming handbook identified "refusing meat" as "the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint". A report by the United Nations (UN) said that raising animals for food generates almost 40 per cent more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined. Well that’s the first thing I did. From yesterday, my fortieth birthday, I became vegetarian. I've still got milk in the fridge, so whether I stop drinking milk – and I know that I should - or eating eggs are challenges that I will face in the coming days, weeks and months when things start to run out. But for now my first action was to become vegetarian.

So back to the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle.

Why reduce? Well just because something can be recycled does not mean that it didn’t take a lot of carbon to produce. Products such as glass bottles and aluminium cans have an embodied energy in them, which means they take energy and carbon to produce. We're going to avoid these if possible and otherwise look for ones that can be reused.

Next we'll reuse. We’ll look out for containers that can be refilled, or reused for another use rather than one that can go to the bottle bank or can bank.

Finally we’ll recycle. I was shocked recently to find out that not everything we put in the recycle bin actually gets recycled. Some goes to landfill.

And wherever possible I am going to avoid products that cannot be recycled – mainly types of plastics.

So what’s in it for me? Apart from doing my bit to help prevent runaway climate change that will plunge the earth into a new hothouse state and kill us all.

Well, I want to save money. All that waste costs money. All that stuff we buy and never use. All those places we drive to instead of walking to. I’ve cut my hours at work from 5 days to 3 so that I can concentrate on my master degree at the Centre of Alterative Technology ( and I really can’t afford to waste money.

And I intend to become healthy. Life begins at forty. I’m forty and fat. I don’t intend to be forty-one and fat.

At the beginning of December my wife and I began to monitor everything that we spent to get an idea of what we spent our money on. We’ll continue to do that next year. We’ll also compare our bank statements from last year to this.

We also read our gas, electricity and water metres at the beginning of December. Again using that data and last year’s bills we’ll be able to compare how much of those commodities we use this year compared to last. Similarly with the car and petrol.

So this is our transition house. Over the course of next year we will reduce our footprint on the earth. We won't be leaping in to changes all at once and failing, but taking one step at a time, making one change at a time.

We are going to start growing our own vegetables.

We are going to buy locally produced organic food without packaging. The fewer miles the food has to travel the better. Plus it helps local growers.

We are going to measure our spending and cut back where we can, we are going to measure how much gas, electricity and water we use, and reduce as much as we can. When we run out of stuff we are going to evaluate and buy the best possible alternative – and we haven’t been stockpiling. We’ll make our own cleaning products and brew our own beer and wine. And we'll produce as little waste as possible. Not just waste that goes to landfill, but as little as possible waste to be recycled.

And we are not going to cheat by using public waste bins or facilities at work.

And eating and drinking out in pubs and restaurants is not an excuse to avoid waste measurement. We need to make judgements along the way as to how to handle invitations out and round to people's houses. But most of all we are going to have a lot of fun along the way.

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