Have you heard of the Riot for Austerity? I am just an observer of it, but I admit to being very intrigued. When I look at the Occupy movement, I long for a viable alternative. It’s fine to protest, but tell me what the other option is. Riot for Austerity is an alternative: a challenge to reduce your household emissions in seven categories to 90% less than (of 10% of) the average American household and keep it there for a year. Like a diet on consumerism. But unlike a crash diet, the maintenance of these changes can have a real lasting effect on our use.
My friend Anisa introduced me to it. She’s doing a “Quiet Riot.” We’re not shooting for 90%, but like any of my efforts to reduce, it is so helpful for me to see actual numbers. How much natural gas are we using? How much electricity? Water? Transportation fuel? Water? Garbage? Food that is not local, or not sustainably grown?
I admit that I had hoped we were already using considerably less than average, but that wasn’t the case. It takes a lot of heat to warm this house, even with good windows and insulation. And we like our showers hot and long around here. It’s hard to measure exactly how much of our food is local vs. not. Do I measure in pounds, or dollars?
But charting the actual numbers has made me realize what we use and has started me thinking more concretely. We hung fewer Christmas lights, and now that I’m turning the computers off every night (rather than just letting them sleep) we used 10% less electricity than for the same 3-month period a year ago. Our natural gas use is down 18% from last year (based on 5 months of bills each year). And none of our changes– using the clothesline or turning our heat down earlier in the evening (at 8:30 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m.)– really bother us at all. For now, comparing our use to our own use a year ago has been helpful. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to dive into the R4A for real, but I’m learning so much from thinking about it.
If you look at the R4A from a Christian perspective, I’d strongly encourage you to read Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity with it. He writes about Simplicity as an end in itself simply being one more dead end. But if we use a holy practice of simplicty as a tool to identity with the world’s poor and to become more like Jesus in the process, then we’re getting somewhere.