Monday, 19 July 2010

What's Lizz been doing now?

Lizz's Faith and Climate Blog has now been updated with her April and May challenges. (If you want to catch up with what this is all about, see the first and second posts about Lizz's year of eco-challenges).

In April, Lizz's challenge was to live on £1 a day for the month. Lizz adapted her ideas on this from a book by Kath Kelly called How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day. Kath's book made quite a splash - you can see press coverage from England and Scotland, and read a review. Kelly did this for a whole year, but Lizz was only doing it for a month. Interestingly, she says she found this was actually harder than her February challenge of not buying anything! Lizz writes: "Around the world more than half the global population live on a dollar a day, and yes of course it’s different here but £1 a day after bills must surely be possible? I even have some food in the kitchen – though not as much as in February. And I have some seeds so I can grow some more salads at home. So – why does it seem harder – is it cumulative?"

Lizz goes on to explore whether it's the cumulative effect of April being the 4th consecutive challenging month; or whether it reminds her of times when she really had no choice but to live on very little, which can be stressful. She then goes on to think through what makes it easier not to spend money: make lists when you go shopping, don't buy magazines that make you want things, set a budget for the month and stick to them, start by keeping a list of everything you spend each day and adding it up – so that you can see where the main leakages are. Pay off your credit card debt before you do anything else and cut the card up!

And the whole thing was made more complicated by the fact that Lizz had to go to Bonn, for work, in the middle of the £1-month! So, was it to be one euro over there, or what?

Two other books, alongside Kath Kelly's, which explore somewhat similar experiments (and, again, each for a year) are Free: adventures on the margins of a wasteful society by Katherine Hibbert; and The Moneyless Man: a year of freeconomic living by Mark Boyle.

All in all, a tough month - you can read the whole of it here.

And then it was May . . . when the the challenge was to halve household energy use, halve recycling, buy no plastic packaging, send nothing to landfill, and triple offset her total energy spend.

At the end of April Lizz took her meter readings: the equivalent of a £6.70 spend on electricity in the previous month. Also, she sent 400g of waste to landfill, plus 4kg of paper/card, 200g of plastic, 400g of glass and 250g of metal to recycling. Of course it's preferable to send stuff for recycling rather than to landfill, but recycling also takes energy for transport and processing, so it's even better to get the amount of recyling down as well. This is sometimes called 'pre-cycling'.

To triple offset her energy use, Lizz took three approaches:

* Planting trees direct
* Investing in sustainable energy projects in the UK
* Investing in a project overseas

Also, in April, Lizz did an inventory of what left the flat as waste and recycling, so she could be specific about what to cut out. Helpfully, in the midst of this May challenge, Lizz reached the top of her allotment waiting list and became the happy tenant of an allotment - immediately, the new compost heap took care of some of the waste!
Throughout the month, Lizz kept a tally of everything, and tried to add up all the energy implications at the end of the month. It's not always easy to do the calculations. Energy used in travel, for instance, can be difficult to estimate, but QCEA have put on their website some useful information and help with choices.

Another useful resource is a new book called How Bad are Bananas? The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee.
Summing up the whole month, and what she learned from doing it, Lizz says:
"I think I have got my energy use down to about as low as it can go whilst still living a mostly ‘normal’ sort of life. I probably did use less energy when I lived on a house boat or in a yurt, but the reality is that most people aren’t going to do this, so I’m interested in seeing what can be done within ‘normal’ parameters. Not having a car does keep the consumption down and I have managed to live in really rural places without one. So this isn’t just an urban option. Overall my public transport journeys are high because of travelling for work outside of Birmingham."
You can read the whole of Lizz's account of the month here
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