Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

6 Personal Carbon Footprint Calculators (and How to Use Them Efficiently)


Photo credit.

You've undoubtedly heard environmental experts stress how important it is for people to make lifestyle changes that reduce their carbon footprints. But, some individuals may not feel compelled to do that unless they know how much progress they need to make. Personal carbon footprint calculators can help by determining some of the greenhouse gases (GHG) you contribute through the way you live.

Scientists know fossil fuels are significant contributors to GHG emissions due to how they release CO2. Statistics published in 2017 asserted that over the past 263 years, the CO2 contributions from industrialized humans totaled 1480 billion tons.

But, how much does a person contribute? Carbon dioxide is the main kind of greenhouse gas associated with human activities. And, data from 2016 indicates that the average amount of carbon dioxide per person in the United States was 16 metric tons, with that amount projected to decrease through 2050.

Now, it's time to examine six personal carbon footprint calculators and learn how to use them.

Conservation International's Carbon Footprint Calculator

Have you ever wondered about how much a trip you're taking impacts your carbon footprint? This calculator can tell you, in addition to estimating the carbon footprint for your overall lifestyle, that of your household's or the carbon emissions associated with an event. Choose the kind of calculation you want from the drop-down menu, then enter your zip code.

You'll then proceed to the main part of the calculator, which has three sections, and numerous questions within each one. Don't worry, though, because each segment is a reasonable length and not prohibitively time-consuming. When you get done, the results give your estimated annual emissions compared to the average American home.

Bear in mind, though, that there's a button that prompts you to "offset your footprint now," but it merely goes to a donation page.

This calculator would be more practical if it helped users take the next steps. Luckily, there's nothing to suggest the information it gives while calculating a footprint might be inaccurate. And, since the organization deals solely with Earth conservation, major errors would cause embarrassments.

The Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator

This option has a feature many other carbon footprint calculators don't have because, as you type information into the fields to indicate things about your life, it adjusts to show if your carbon footprint is better than average. When it is, you'll see a percentage. Also, the calculator breaks down your carbon footprint by types, such as a household footprint or travel footprint.

That's useful because it highlights problem areas and lets you know how to make the most noticeable improvements. Since the calculator offers changing figures based on what you input, you can trust that it probably has a high level of accuracy.

The EPA's Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency has you begin by entering the number of people in your household, plus your zip code. Then, the calculator takes you through three segments: home energy, transportation and waste. You'll have to get specific with the data, such as by inputting the usual amounts of your electricity bills, your car's gas mileage and how many miles you drive per year.

One helpful thing about this calculator is that it has "Reduce Your Emissions" sections, and you can find out how much certain activities — like performing regular automobile maintenance — could cut down on emissions. If you want to help the planet in another way by tackling pollution, consider recycling your car's motor oil, filters and other parts, like batteries, if there are places that accept those things in your area.

After going through all the parts of the calculator, you'll see how your family's carbon footprint compares to the U.S. average based on where you live.

Plus, the calculator tells you how much of a difference you could make by undertaking the potential actions to cut emissions. Since this calculator is so thorough, it's likely very accurate compared to some others.

Carbon Calculator

Although this carbon footprint calculator isn't as visually pleasing as the one above, it works in almost the same way. One advantage though is that it lets you estimate your secondary carbon footprint, calculated based on how much you spend on different categories of products each year, and the previous calculator didn't offer that.

Plus, when you get your results, they're compared to other people in your country as well as the global average, which is useful for figuring out how you stack up.

One thing to note is that this calculator comes from a company that helps businesses offset their carbon footprints. Also, the website doesn't say where the source material came from, which could cause some people to raise their eyebrows.

The myclimate Footprint Calculator

This calculator, from a Swiss organization called the Climate Protection Partnership, is simpler than some of the other carbon footprint calculators mentioned here so far. It only asks seven questions, so it's ideal if you have a couple of minutes to devote to initially learning about your carbon footprint. There are three possible answers per question, and many of the options are broad.

So, keep in mind that this one is probably not as accurate as others, but it's a good starting point. This calculator also breaks down your total emissions per category, showing you how your impact adds up.

The Global Footprint Network's Footprint Calculator

This option allows people to give answers by either using a slider bar to show their estimated position on the spectrum or adding more details by getting more precise. For example, the first question asks how often you eat animal products.

But, then, you can say how many times you eat beef or pork, etc. Since scientists know some animals have a more significant impact on the environment than others, those details matter.

As you work with the slider bar, notice the descriptions clarifying what some positions mean. Referring back to the question about consuming animal products, it tells you that selecting "occasionally" confirms you really like vegetables and eat eggs, meat and dairy from time to time.

A frustrating thing about this calculator is that it gives no signs of how far along you are in completing the calculating process. Also, you may not like that this calculator doesn't provide a carbon footprint like the others, but shows how many Earths would be needed if every human on the planet lived like you do.

It also gives your Earth Overshoot Day, which happened on August 1, 2018. That's the date when humanity has supposedly used up the planet's resources for the year, making it switch into "overshoot mode." So, if your overshoot day is before the first of August, you're doing better than most people.

But, this measurement is vague, calling its accuracy into question.

Start Using These Carbon Footprint Calculators Today

Knowing how your lifestyle affects the planet is crucial for taking positive action, and these six calculators can help you do that.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Winter and the Hallways of God

Adobe Stock/lukasdesign

It’s a beautiful, magical time of year. Families gather with home-cooked meals on the table, friends and neighbors stopping by.

When you look at the world through the eyes of nature it all seems so peaceful, so right, and so “spiritual” for lack of a better word. A walk in the woods can reveal more spirituality then attending a church.

Countering Cultural Crises

And yet the human race seems to get lost in the unnatural world that we create. We are overwhelmed by a digital tsunami of two-dimensional images that neither last nor have any true importance and yet it consumes our attention, our senses and our emotions.

Do we build a wall or not? Why did that man going to a shopping mall with a gun? Who are these immoral fools that kidnapped that child? All these families that are being laid off for the holidays, what will they do? That man on the street corner, is he really homeless or is he playing the public? That husband doesn’t like his wife, that wife is cheating on her husband, those children have run away from home.

It’s endless. Maybe, instead of a big wall, we should erect a big mirror to reflect back what we have become as a culture.

Cultivating Acts of Love

And yet when you walk in the woods, when you enter the cathedral of the earth and the snow is falling and the quiet surrounds you like a hand-stitched blanket and you listen to the magical, musical nothing of the earth — it seems everything the human race deems important is all vanity, all useless, all so temporary.

What is permanent is the love that we have for each other, our families, our friends. For me, nothing translates that better than music and art, perhaps for you its something else. Maybe it’s the way a grandmother hugs the little babies visiting her nest, the way a dad hands his paycheck over to his wife, the way a mother sets the table in preparation for the meal she worked all afternoon to serve her family, maybe it’s the little drawing the toddler gives someone as a gift.

It could be the alcoholic that puts down the drink, the cigarette smoker that turns their back on tobacco, the overweight man who makes the decision to be healthy, the depressed person who becomes brave enough, humble enough to seek help. These, too, are gifts.

It’s those little things — the cost-less acts of love that are so priceless — that mean the most. It’s not the buildings that we erect as temples to our vanity, it’s the walk in the woods, the hallways of God that make our presence here on this earth meaningful.

In the end I think that’s what we are all looking for, some kind of meaning for why we are here. Nothing fills the emptiness more than the quietness of the woods in winter.

Michael Johnathon is a folk singer, songwriter, and homesteader based in Kentucky. He is the founder, producer and host of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, a radio and television program featuring Americana, folk and other American roots music. In 2007, he wrote the play Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau, which has been performed in more than 7,400 colleges, community theaters and schools in nine countries. Connect with Michael on his website and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Recycling Crisis: Is It True?

Sophie in West Paw bed 

The author's dog on her West Paw bed.

Plastics ruining the oceans are a common sight on both TV and internet news. I’m sure it’s a big problem and am doing what I can to stem the tide. Many of us Mother Earth News readers want to help but aren’t sure where to start. Read on to find out some of the challenges and solutions I’ve found to address this dilemma.

When I read a story in the Baltimore Sun’s June 24th issue about recycling efforts going to waste, I was shocked by the amount of items meant for single-stream recycling being sent to landfills. The article points out one of the most significant problems is consumers don’t know how to recycle correctly. The author also tells about China cutting back on purchasing our recycled paper, and other recycled items. Here are some of the things you can do to help recycling centers and the environment.

Clean those plastics you’re tossing in the bin. The good news is the recycling of single-use plastics like water bottles, soft drink bottles, yogurt containers, etc. is encouraged. The problem is, items must be reasonably clean for the facility that receives to process them or else these dirty items are worthless. Think of yogurt or peanut butter containers coated with remaining product, and it’s easy to see that would contaminate the mix when melted down. Then there are the half-full drink bottles tossed in the recycling container. Clean and empty all items you put in the recycling bin if you want them to have a chance at another life cycle.

Plastic straws are said to be non-recyclable and over 500 million per day are used and discarded. Just say no to straws that restaurants most often put in glasses of water and other drinks. Perfectly good non-plastic straws can be sourced from companies like Aardvark. I applaud Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants for adopting Aardvark's eco-friendly straw. Ted’s goes one step further. Instead of putting straws in all drinks, they place a container of Aardvark straws on each table and let consumers choose to use or not use a straw.

Glass Versus Plastic

Some consumers think that purchasing food and drink products in glass containers does the environment a favor. Recycling centers typically find that glass is worthless to process but do so as a service to residents of many US municipalities. Glass is heavy and costs more to transport. From a consumer’s point of view, glass seems safer than plastic. Some studies report that plastic particles are released into the beverage or food products they are packaged in. I don’t want to eat or drink plastic and prefer glass or aluminum over plastic bottles. It’s a tough choice to make when deciding if glass or plastic is the lesser evil. While touring the Las Vegas recycling complex, I was told at best only 16% of plastic bottles are collected for recycling. I suggest you opt for glass or aluminum, even if you are recycling your plastics.

Paper, Not Plastic

Paper bags are better than plastic bags for the environment. Who hasn’t seen plastic grocery bags flying from tree limbs and barbwire fences? Yes, paper bags cost more to deliver and use more fuel to do so, but it’s a renewable resource. Better yet, use a shopping bag made from recycled plastics or a canvas bag. My Pike Place Market canvas bags are more than 20 years old and still holding up well. I keep extra canvas bags under the seat of my car so I always have reusable bags for shopping.

Reusealble grocery bags

My 20 year old canvas grocery bags holding up well.

Support Those Who Produce Recycled Plastic Products

Supporting businesses that create useful consumer goods from recycled plastic is a great way to help the environment. I recently found out about West Paw in Montana. West Paw makes superior dog beds from recycled plastic bottles. They also make leashes, toys, and collars for dogs. Check out their toys made from Zogoflex, a strong chew-resistant product. West Paw has a program called Join the Loop where they encourage consumers to send in worn out Zogoflex toys for recycling. Read more about West Paw.

Samsonite has a line of eco-friendly luggage called Eco-Nu made from recycled plastic bottles. Light and durable, these bags are a smart solution for travelers who want to help the environment. I only recently found out about this line of luggage and will give it a try next time I’m in the market for a new suitcase.

U-Konserve is a company out of Sausalito California making some of their products from recycled plastics. I read this on their website, Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year, and only 8% gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, is incinerated, or becomes litter.

Started by two moms that wanted to cut down on the waste created by packing lunches for their school-age children, this company is at the forefront of eco-friendly food-carrying products. Not only are their lunch totes and ice packs made from recycled plastic, but U-Konserve also makes a full line of eco-friendly food and beverage toting products. U-Konserve stresses the importance of using functional implements for packing lunches that can be reused hundreds of times. They even have a Lids for Life program where if the lid on their stainless steel container wears out, they will replace it for free.

A Better Grocery Store

In Maryland, a new kind of grocery store was born in 1987. Scott Nash is the founder and CEO of MOM’s (MOM’s Organic Market).  Scott has taken this small business started in his mother’s garage and turned it into a model for the future of grocery stores. Now spanning four Mid-Atlantic States and the District of Columbia, MOM’s stores accept a variety of hard to recycle products in their store. Customers can drop off used corks, shoes, foil-lined snack bags, eyewear, and other hard to recycle items. They also recycle Christmas lights during the holidays.

MOM Organic Market's recycling

MOM's Organic Grocery Store recycling station.

MOM’s quit selling still or flat bottled water in 2010 as part of their commitment to protect and restore the environment. They don’t use plastic grocery bags and encourage customers to bring re-useable bags when shopping. MOM’s gives customers a ten cent credit for each reusable bag used for toting groceries. One of the aspects of MOM’s commitment to the environment that impresses me the most is their donations of over $500,000. This money goes to environmental organizations that share in their global view of protecting our planet. If you don’t have a MOM’s store near you, pressure your favorite grocery store to adopt MOM’s eco-practices.

Mr. Trash Wheel to the Rescue

John Kellet got tired of seeing trash floating in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on his way to work and took action. After 12 years of creating a workable prototype, Kellet’s Mr. Trash Wheel was put to work. This marvel of modern engineering scoops up tons of floating trash from Jones Falls, Harris Creek, and Masonville Cove. Powered by the force of flowing water supplemented with solar panels, Mr. Trash Wheel is saving the Bay.  Mr. Trash Wheel keeps thousands of plastic bottles, chip bags, plastic grocery bags, and more junk out of the Chesapeake Bay. What’s not to love about these machines!

Mr. Trash Wheel

Harris Creek trash wheel dubbed Professor Trash Wheel.

Volunteer events help sort some of the trash and send appropriate items to a recycling center. The rest is sent to landfills. And while I’d like to see all the plastics recycled, it’s better to be sent to a landfill than float out into the Bay.

What We Can Do

1. Reduce, reuse, and recycle is still vital as ever.

2. Consider buying beverages in aluminum instead of plastic containers.

3. Contact your local municipality if you aren’t clear about proper recycling methods. It would be a shame to have your efforts end up in the local landfill unnecessarily.

4. Be a part of the change by posting some of your favorite recycled products on the Mother Earth News Facebook page. By sharing eco-friendly products sources our health and the health of the planet will benefit greatly.

Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like: Trip101.comMotherEarthNews.comAdventuresstraveler.comand several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Creating a Fruit Feeding Station for Butterflies (Learning Through Community)

When I first began to plant my butterfly garden, I had no idea that butterflies enjoyed fruit – but not only do many of these winged-beauties like fruit – some actually prefer the fruit juice to flower nectar. Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta), Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis), Red Spotted Purples (Limenitis arthemis), Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa celtis), Viceroys (Limenitis archippus), and Commas (Polygonia c-album) are just a few of the many species of butterflies who may frequent a backyard fruit feeder.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

(Photo by Kelly Dean/with permission) Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

As the creator of Serendipity, I appreciate the active learning that occurs within a community of like-minded people; people who embrace the vision of developing backyard habitats. By sharing our ideas and photos – we continue to better understand how to best meet the needs of the butterflies and wildlife that visit our gardens. Providing fruit for butterflies has been an ongoing topic of discussion on Serendipity. Together, we have learned that butterfly fruit feeders do not need to be fancy; actually I recommend re-purposing common household items for this project. A terracotta saucer, a suet cage, a retired kitchen bowl, or even a charming bird feeder all work equally well.

Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis)

(Photo by Kimberly Vensel/with permission) Pair of Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis)

So how do butterflies eat fruit?  We have tongues with taste buds; butterflies do not. Instead they have taste receptors on their legs.  Butterflies often stand on a potential food source and their proboscis is unfurled when they find something tasty – like fruit. A butterfly will use its proboscis, a straw-like structure, to sip fruit juice – similar to how they draw nectar from a flower blossom.   

 Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (left)

(Photo by Jim Smith/with permission) Red Admiral-Left (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies are not picky about their fruit – actually they prefer it over-ripe or rotting. Without doubt, watermelon definitely seems to be a butterfly fan favorite at backyard fruit buffets. Oranges, plums, nectarines, berries, applies, cantaloupe, and bananas all work well for attracting butterflies. Sometimes, local markets willingly offer bruised or over-ripe fruit for the taking – an excellent way to reduce waste while feeding the butterflies. Also, do not be surprised to see some competition at your backyard fruit station. According to Audubon, many types of birds also enjoy feasting on fruit offerings. Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, and Northern Mockingbirds are a few examples of some of the feathered friends who may stop by for a snack. For this reason, I have placed a few fruit feeders throughout my backyard – we can never have too many winged visitors – butterflies or birds! 

Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis),

(Photo by Ginie Abney Anthony/with permission) Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa celtis),

(Photo by Ginie Abney Anthony/with permission) Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Another good idea is to use an old log with an indentation, or tree stump with a hollow in the center as a natural fruit feeder. With this in mind, I am including a recipe for making a fruit concoction.  I recommend mixing up the ingredients and then spreading the mix onto the log or stump – then sit back and wait for the butterflies, bees and pollinators to visit.

Recipe for Fruit Mixture  (The Butterfly Garden, by Matthew Tekulsky, 1985)  

1 pound of sugar
1 or 2 cans of stale beer
3 mashed over-ripe bananas
1 cup of molasses or syrup
1 can fruit juice
1 shot of rum

Shannon Mach believes residential backyards have the potential to support long-term conservation efforts. Her own garden is certified as a Monarch Waystation, a Wildlife Habitat, a Butterfly Garden, and a Pollinator Habitat. The philosophy of her Facebook group, Serendipity, is to create a place that feels like a nature walk with friends.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living, Part 6: Building with Earth


The boys and I putting the final touches on the Tadelakt finish of our cob oven.

This series is based on the belief that our small, individual actions are important.  Sure, climate change, environmental degradation, structural inequality...are big problems that need big, systems-based solutions and one person’s worm bin won’t save the planet.  But I also know that not having a worm bin and plopping my food scraps in the trash causes bad things to happen.  It subtracts from the balance of life and health. Rich worm castings improve a plant’s life, a garden’s health, make better carrots, feed a few thousand worms.  That’s an addition. Plus, it’s an action we can take, daily, share with our kids, our friends, scale up. Combine that with a lifestyle of plusses and we start to get places.  I also know that if I don’t try to live regeneratively, that if I don’t act in my community, demonstrate alternatives, that I’ve already given up. But this piece is not about worm bins but building with earth and is our Top Tip Number 6 for regenerative living.  

By earth I mean clay-rich soils and sand.  Building with earth falls under the broader umbrella of natural building and the even bigger one of green building.  For this article, I’m sticking with just building with earth: cob and adobe, natural plasters and clay-paints.

Why earth?  People have been living with earth for millennia and maybe a third of all people today still are. I suggest it’s a part of us and the human experience as much as music and storytelling.  There’s a deep affinity within us that feels primal, natural, right when we enter an earthen home or run our hands along a sexy, slightly undulating earthen-plastered wall. Earthen construction has curves, like nature. It has personality and character and flaws that make it lovable.  Earth ages well and looks timeless, like it belongs to a place or helps a place to belong.

Clay-rich soils and sand are abundant and can often be sourced locally, not requiring big companies and damaging extractions.  Earth is non-toxic: there’s no off-gassing and ill-begotten wars needed to secure it. Clay soils come in a variety of colors: the clays on our land are dull-red and brown but we also bring clays from afar when we travel including a vibrant red-orange clay from over the hill in Auburn, California.  We also ScAvenge! leftover pottery clay from art studios and classes which isn’t local but is salvaged and provides other colors. Earth is fun to work with and building with it is democratic - anyone can do it.

Here’s a short rant: Have you seen the Sherwin-Williams logo “Cover the Earth” with the earth getting drenched in blood-red paint?  Dear god, is there a more awful logo out there?  

We purchased our broken down house in 2011 and have fixed it up since then with a lot of earth inside and out. Building with earth is not just for new houses and cabins but also for remodeling conventional homes, like ours.

Here’s what we’ve done (consider this my list of tips):

Applied clay paint over our existing paint in our bedroom 

Earth-plastered our living room over our old paint and drywall 

Added an earthen floor section to our living room

Repaired original stick-framed walls with light-straw clay infill and earthen plaster in our mudroom and bathroom

Built earthbag landscaping walls to define spaces and create beauty

Built a cob pizza oven in our front yard and a cob “stoven” on our porch for summer slow-cooking 

Made earthen plaster art and paintings for around the property (easy to do on old drywall pieces)

Earthed-out an existing shed and transformed it into a lovely summer cabin

Used earth to encapsulate and decorate a wood-fired hot tub

Made a thick, heat-retaining wall of earth in our greenhouse

And, down the block: Poured an earthen floor in my mother-in-law’s mother-in-law cabin, an earthen hearth in her home, and built the One-day Cob House in her backyard

Do you live in a rental but want earth in your life? You can hang a piece of clay-plastered or painted drywall over an existing wall.  But own or rent, just start.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living, Part 5: Voluntary Poverty


Photo by Peter Grubb

Voluntary Poverty paradoxically has provided us with more time for hobbies and travel: backpacking with the kids and nephew in the Sierras

Number 5 in our series for tips to live more regeneratively.  Climate change bad, regenerative living good!

The word “regeneration” means to be born again or to make over and it stems from the word “genesis” which means origin or when something came into existence.  And “Genesis” (big “G”) is the first book of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible which describes how God made the world. So, if you’re Jewish or Christian maybe trying to live regeneratively is doing God’s work.  Or rehabilitating God’s original work.  Or something like that.  Anyway, it’s good work worth doing.  

We’ve chosen to live in voluntary poverty not because of religious or spiritual calling per se but as another way of putting connection over consumption, of health (big picture) before wealth, simplicity with service, passions…(what’s a word that starts with “p”?), blah, blah, blah.  I wrote about this in a previous Mother blog article and got some great responses.  I don’t want to repeat myself here in my new “Top Tips…” series so check out that piece for the whole picture.  I’ve tried to distill this article to the basics while offering some new insights.

Here are the details:

Our family of four has lived on between $6,000 and $14,000 over the last 8 or 9 years  
It was a several-year journey to get there which started with job-sharing
We fundraised/crowdsourced to buy our home with help from over 200 supporters.  It cost $40K, was a complete wreck, and we bought it at the bottom of the market
We pay forward their investment in us through community, enviro, and social justice work. Their support has been the wind beneath our wings.
We have few bills (and no electric or oil) and property taxes are low in Reno (like $400/year for us)
We grow lots of food, volunteer for most of the rest
We earn money through a mix of work for our nonprofit, natural building, writing, teaching, construction
We share with friends and neighbors: stuff, time, knowledge...that creates circles of connection, friendship and caring
We get Medicaid (see my blog on health) but also work hard to stay healthy and create healthy communities
We buy used or salvage & upcycle resources before buying new (or “ScAvenge!” as I like to call it)
Our kids are our biggest single expense - camps, classes, sports, activities, music lessons…
It’s challenging, fun, inspires creativity, requires a lot of time at home/on our land
It paradoxically provides us with lots of free time (be it weekly or seasonal) to pursue our interests
We’ve learned so many new skills from candle-making to rabbit-raising, canning to dehydrating that have connected us with more people, our food, our land
Money’s not evil, just another tool we get to choose how to use

It’s not a choice that went over well with my mom who described my lifestyle as pathetic and pauper-ish.  That stung a bit but heck, trying to live in alignment with one’s values is not always a cake-walk (and we’re good, now). I get where she’s coming from, too; she wants the best for me and her family worked hard to get their part of the American Dream.  There’s nothing wrong with that except that now we know that how we’ve done the American Dream is destroying life as we know it.  Can we take the good and leave the bad while moving forward with love, wisdom, and compassion?  That’s the work of our time.  

Here are my tips for getting to voluntary poverty:

1. Read the book, Your Money or Your Life. This will help you prioritize your stuff, jobbing, and time.

2. Take small steps regularly; risks and leaps when you’re able.  This might be giving up a car, downsizing significantly into a smaller living space, finding opportunities for sharing, getting creative with jobbing...

3. Think contextually to make these bigger changes: in other words what changes can occur at the systems levels (water, heat, food…) or in your environment that strike more deeply at habits and have greater impact.

4. Find guides, people here now and from the past.  Put your life into the context of history - who’s done it before (sages, mystics, faith traditions, back-to-the-landers…), what was their story, how does it resonate with what you’re doing?  

People will be intrigued by what you’re doing and why so...

5. Craft your story and be able to share it powerfully.  Stories impact people more than information and, guess what, lead to more connection and opportunities for regenerative living.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living, Part 4: Taking Action for Insects


This is an unexpected but timely entry in my ongoing series on tips for regenerative living.   Unexpected because I had not meant to include a separate piece just for insects: we support them through many of our homesteading and community-building activities and their health and wellbeing are nurtured alongside the other beneficiaries from a regenerative lifestyle.  But, that was before I read a shocking article last week in The New York Times Magazine called, “The Insect Apocalypse is here.” 

With a title like that it’s no surprise that it’s more big-time bad news, this time concerning the dramatic decrease in insect numbers (both in species diversity and biomass) across the world.  It’s a powerful and depressing read but important to give more context to our time, our work, our lives.  In it, the author, Brooke Jarvis, shares several draw-dropping statistics about insect and other animal declines up the food web.  Here are a few standouts:

By weight, the abundance of flying insects in German nature preserves decreased 75% over 27 years

The world’s largest king penguin colony shrank by 88% in 35 years

The population of monarch butterflies fell by 90% in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals (see my greywater article which talks about monarchs and milkweed here)

More than 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that once lived in the ocean are gone

96% of the total biomass of mammals is human and livestock; just 4% is wild animals

Wow!  Talk about a punch in the gut. Further, she shares that scientist and author E.O. Wilson has termed our epoch the Eremocine, the age of loneliness. Sigh, sad face emoji. This being a blog about tips for regenerative living, what can we do to address this nightmare?  Choose one:

Watch more Fox News (or CNN or MSNBC or whatever)

Curl up in the shower and suck our thumbs

Go shopping

Drink excessive amounts of alcohol

Design our landscapes to support a diversity of insect life

No, not really.  Our land - a half acre in a semi-urban Reno neighborhood - was equal parts bare dead soil and pokey invasive weeds when we moved onto it in August of 2011.  We noticed very few insects and birds other than the colony of house sparrows nesting in the ivy.  We started soil-building that first week when we met a neighborhood landscaper who was happy to dump truckloads of grass and leaves in our backyard.  We followed with loads of wood chips, aggressive composting (all types...all types), some purchased soil and compost every now and again, scores and scores of scAvenged, funky straw bales, nutrient-accumulating plantings, chicken, rabbit, and goat manure, and the occasional infusion of seaweed, mountain sand, and animal carcasses.  Seven years later we now have amazing soil rich in nutrients and humus that supports a vast diversity of insects and microbes along with plants. 

Now we are blessed with katydids and cicadas, butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, praying mantises, spiders galore, centipedes and millipedes, the occasional mosquito, wood borers, grasshoppers and crickets, ants and ant lions, flies, snakeflies, dragonflies, earwigs and potato bugs, and more.  Not all are considered “beneficial” to the urban gardener but overall they contribute to a healthy system. This insect life in turn supports animals up the web but birds most of all - the happiest addition to our land.  I could write another list, but...OK, I will. I like lists:

Mourning doves, pigeons
Various sparrows
Mountain chickadee
Steller’s Jay
Great Horned Owl
Scrub jay
Lots of little gray birds
Goldfinch, house finch
American kestrel
Cooper’s hawk
Red-tailed hawk
Golden Eagle (attacking a chicken)
Cedar waxwing

Some nest, some pass through. Twice this past summer I was heartened by comments about the bird life on our place. The first exclaimed, “My god, there so many birds here” and the second came from a first-time visitor biking over for a natural building class: “I figured this was your place because of all the bird song.”  That’s a nice reward for the years of effort. 

Here’s some of what we’ve done at our place that supports insect life and life in general:

Planted native species

Built a greywater system: read my article and go to work

Composted and built soil:  read my article and go to work, again

Installed perennial polycultures throughout our property

• Established a food forest in our backyard that’s a mix of trees (fruit, nut, natives…), nutrient accumulators, berry bushes, shrubs, herbs and flowers.  It’s at about year 5 now and really starting to pop in terms of productivity.

Built a pond: read my article

Kept records of what’s on/visits our space and linked up with scientists and conservation orgs. We actually haven’t done this yet in any scientific manner (poco a poco) but our buddies run Nevada Bugs & Butterflies so I’m reaching out to them as soon as I get home

Lastly, we always consider how we can stack functions and amplify all of these actions at the neighborhood and community scale.  This includes sharing seeds, plants, compost, labor, knowledge and enthusiasm

Don’t have land?  Get some planters on a sill, work with those that do have land (including community efforts, schools, parks…), go guerrilla and plant the “edges” - along sidewalks, empty lots, etc, volunteer with bug people, and so on. 

Here’s another quote from E.O. Wilson:

"If we were to wipe out insects alone on this planet, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land.  Within a few months.”

Are we just pissing in the wind with our efforts?  Maybe.  But I’ll be pissing on my perennial polycultures. 

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