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Could You Live Off the Grid?

Next I wanted to calculate Victor and Claudia’s carbon footprint. This was a bit trickier, because many of the questions were designed for an “average” household and didn’t apply to them. For instance, “Do you use energy star appliances?” Well, they have no appliances, which was not an available answer. “What have you done to change the impact of your food and diet?” Shooting and dressing one’s own meat certainly wasn’t among the choices.

Then there’s the question, “How many meals include meat?” Generally speaking, the more meat one eats the more carbon is emitted thanks to an agricultural system that prompts dependency on factory farm-raised products. Since Victor and Claudia eat only wild-caught meat, I chose “never” for the answer, assuming that wild-caught meat has negligible carbon impacts.

Results of my best guessing: Victor and Claudia emit 37 tons of carbon per year total (53 tons is the U.S. average for a two-person household), with 18 tons due to occasional flights to Europe to visit Claudia’s family. As a couple they emit 10 tons more than I do alone.

So what could my family do to dial back our carbon footprint?

I decided to look at one daily activity as a starting point: eating. In a recent New York Times article, Mark Bittman poses thought-provoking questions, including “How can food change my life?” And “How can food change the world?”

Like many American households, my small family faces a hugely dysfunctional food system and needs a starting point for change. Bittman suggests that people “fix school lunches. Support a farmer, or start growing your own vegetables. Work for a member of Congress who is committed to making Big Food pay its way. Support fair treatment of workers and of animals, too.”

Living off the grid—7 billion people living off the grid—is impossible, though many do it and not by choice. Killing my own food can’t be done in my neighborhood with my resources. Flying to critical conferences and meetings—a requirement to do my work at The Nature Conservancy—must remain an option.

But I can start with the possible. As Bittman says, however I choose to live and whatever changes I make, I have to begin somewhere. And why not at my table?

Randy Swaty is an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy based in Michigan. His work spans from microbial to landscape ecology. In his spare time he gardens, builds bikes, canoes and has a violin under construction—all with his two boys and wife.

Jeannie Patton is the program coordinator for The Nature Conservancy’s LANDFIRE project, providing administrative, communications and web support. She is an enthusiastic skier, hiker and river rafter.

Image: Randy Swaty and his son Ry working on their canoe. Courtesy of Randy Swaty.

Read more: Children, Conservation, Crafts & Hobbies, Food, Green, Home, Materials & Architecture, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , , , , , , , ,

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3:01AM PST on Dec 29, 2011

Would love to live this way, except I wouldn't be killing anything to eat. I do my best, although have to admit I do like some mod cons, but I grow my own veges and some fruit and run free range chickens which supply me with eggs to eat and sell/swap and manure for the compost.I don't own a car, don't have a washing machine. This world has gotten way too high tech for my liking. Back to the basics :)

6:26PM PST on Dec 27, 2011

I'd like to do this one day, it's definitely on the cards for retirement :)

9:09PM PST on Dec 16, 2011

As a child, I dreamed of having a small house in the country where I would work as an artist. I would have a horse to go into town for groceries etc and my best friend would be a mountain lion. My house would be surrounded by trees and close to a lake where I could draw water and travel in a canoe (I used to take my grandmother into town for groceries during the summer in the canoe when I was about 12). I never did solve the toilet problem because I really do hate the smell of the outhouse, but now know there are such things as composting toilets. I still think of that dream from time to time, but admit that I fell into the standard lifestyle of the 70's after graduating highschool. Now I'm 60 and looking at simplifying substantially, but going off the grid is out of the question. I couldn't catch and kill animals for food (I'd rather adopt them) and when I try to grow something . . . well let's just say that one look from me and plants die. I'd die of starvation without store bought food stuffs. But that dream has never really died. Important would be my companion --- I'd have my three babies (cats) who I love dearly.

2:31PM PST on Dec 12, 2011


9:22AM PST on Dec 5, 2011

Thanks for the glimpse into their life.

2:26AM PST on Dec 5, 2011

Thought provoking for many. Action provoking for some!

1:10AM PST on Dec 5, 2011

Living off the grid will destroy my academic career, and later, my professional career, so no thanks.

12:31AM PST on Dec 5, 2011

With the technology available today one can comfortably live off the grid. In cold climates it would be a challenge to grow one's own food during the long winters.
I thought I would enjoy reading this article until guns and trapping were mentioned. By no stretch of the imagination is that in line with what is commonly associated with "The Nature Conservancy" ? ?

10:51AM PST on Dec 4, 2011

I read a book years ago that explained why the choice of automobile, how long you keep it on the road, and the number you own are the biggest ways you can control your carbon footprint. This is primarily due to the large number of resources that go into and get wasted when producing an automobile.

Food is the next biggest. Cutting out beef products is an easy way to lessen the footprint because of the huge amount of resources needed to produce a pound of beef compared to other meats, and because feeding cows corn and factory farming practices increases the carbon output compared to the traditional practice of free-range grass-fed cows. After that, buying in season and locally cuts down on transportation wastes.

10:40AM PST on Dec 4, 2011

No way!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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