I started this project last year with the question: "Do you have to lower your standard of living in order to reduce your carbon footprint?"
So far we've managed to lower our carbon footprint somewhat, and haven't lowered our standard of living at all. In some small ways, I can say that we've actually raised it.
A byproduct of buying food that requires less petroleum to produce, contains fewer damaging chemicals, and travels vastly shorter distances to reach our table is that we're eating more nutritious and better tasting food. That's an increase in our standard of living.
I also think it's cool to be driving through town while the loudest sound my car makes is the tires on the street (because it's getting most of its power from electricity at those speeds). That's a luxury. It's really a sweet ride. We're burning a fraction of the gas we used to, and at the same time, enjoying a small increase in our standard of living.
The insulation project we did in our basement and under the crawl spaces was a modest one, but it's been effective. We can feel the difference this winter vs. winters past. The floors are warmer and the rooms less drafty. It's too early to tell how much gas this new insulation will save us, but we're comfortable with the thermostat set lower, so I'm anticipating a measurable difference.
Each of these things were spending decisions we made to reduce our use of energy, and each has provided other benefits in health, comfort, and satisfaction.
I think it is safe to say that you can reduce your carbon footprint without lowering your standard of living. The question always becomes: how far can you take it?
Pursuit of the answer has become a sort of hobby now. Some of my need to find amusement and entertainment is now met through this pursuit. In the course of making incremental progress toward the lowest footprint we can manage without reducing our standard of living, I've developed some pretty ambitious plans for energy conservation and production. Some of them we may not be able to hit, but planning and trying turns out to be quite fun in itself.
Part of my next phase includes producing as much food as we can in our city lot. I gardened some as a kid but then dropped it out of mind for years. I got the bug again, only mildly, scratched up some turf in the back yard a few years ago and enjoyed a good crop of string beans and a few tomatoes. But then work and summer schedules took over, and the grass and the dogs reclaimed my tiny tilled patch. Then last spring, motivated by the reading I'd done about the big food industry and its calories from petroleum program, I took up the hoe once again. I decided that this time I wouldn't mess around with one tiny raised bed, so I built six, covered a quarter of the back yard, and got the family involved in planting and tending. We did pretty well for novices. Still have a lot to learn.
This year we're ratcheting it up again. We'll more than double our growing space and play with some different ideas like growing our tomatoes upside down (in planters hanging from poles). We're also planning to add some berry bushes and a dwarf apple tree, and are considering chickens now that our city ordinance allows layers.
Ask me a few years ago, and I would not have said this, but I'm finding this city lot gardening thing quite enjoyable. The kids are into it too. Our twelve-year-old drew up plans for the whole back yard and volunteered to make the chickens her special project.
We're also beginning to talk to neighbors about forming a backyard garden network, or cooperative of sorts, to facilitate sharing produce. I'm interested to see if we can create our own spread-out farm market throughout our neighborhood to supplement the big farm market downtown. If we can pull it off, not only could be supply ourselves with some produce and save trips to the grocery store, but we'll also take care of quite a bit of our social networking too, the kind you get with your feet on the ground and your hands in the soil working along side your neighbors.