Friday, April 20, 2007

Earth Day in Intentional Community

There is no doubt that living together as we do at JPUSA saves big on energy resources. In honor of Earth Day I'll list a few, which will sound like bragging, but will then confess ways we can do better.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that in community, the term "livin' large" is turned on its head. While our living space takes up seven floors (plus three more for Senior citizens, we as individuals are involved in surrendering space. By accepting, for instance, one room for a married couple and one room for two or three single individuals, one also accepts the blessing of huge energy savings.

This goes beyond just using less electricity and into more far-reaching energy savings, such as owning less overall. Those material items took energy to make; by not buying them we in our microcosmic way help lower manufacturers' energy consumption.

Cars, however, are a huge way energy is used in our society. JPUSA owns many cars, more than we used to in our beginning years. But even so, we are far, far below the American average of one car per person. Rather, we share cars as communal resources. We also tend not to travel alone, but ride-share as a matter of pragmatic practice. Again, the energy savings over the usual American practice of one person, one car, are obvious.

Further, in a city like Chicago, where population is dense and the city is built up as well as out, walking and biking are often-used means of travel. As someone a bit addicted to walking when and if I can, I push this option hard with friends and family here. (I admit if we lived in Los Angeles, we'd be challenged in the latter regards.)

Food preparation is done in our large community kitchens, though each floor also has its own smaller kitchen. This can't help but save energy-wise, as large amounts of food are made for many at one blow rather than many smaller meals being made over long periods of time for only one or two people.

I would think this is also true of our dish cleaning operations, which take place via large communal dishwashers and sinks rather than many small ones, again (in the end) perhaps saving in both heating water and in the gas it takes to do that heating.

This hurried list can likely be added significantly to... I've lived here too long (30 years in January '07) to not be blind to some of these energy-saving practices.


Nonetheless, we have areas in which we can do much better.

For one thing, our (by American standards) relative poverty prevents us from doing some things that would be highly intriguing to invest in. How about a set of solar panels on top of our 920 and 939 W. Wilson buildings? How about more solar and wind power on our festival grounds, Cornerstone Farm, near Bushnell, Illinois? We'd love to do it, but at present cannot due to financial costs involved in doing such upgrades initially (even though in the long run they would pay themselves off).

Then there are those things we are just starting to really get rolling... at least, conceptually (sigh!). For instance, changing out many older incandescent bulbs for the newer (but again, more expensive) micro flourescent bulbs: we're not there yet, though a few JPUSAns have done so.

Turning off lights in rooms not being used is also a struggle for us. Some do it consistently, but I confess personally I've had to consciously talk to myself (aloud, sometimes!) to remember to do this, and that only within the past year.

Electronic equipment may use less power than heating and most lighting sources, but it still sucks plenty. I am a bad offender here, often leaving my computers on (though with the "green" power-saver options enabled) and worse, leaving my cable box / DVD system on. (I use older equipment as a rule, which means turning stuff off often means waiting for some time to get it all back "up" again... such is my excuse.) But I can do some things, which I usually (blush) don't. Ask me again in a month what I've done about this.

As a community, there is a psychology that has to be made war on by individual community members. It is far too easy to walk into a lighted room and, because it is not our own living area but a "public" area, leave the lights on even if we turned them on when we entered that room.

Like all things having to do with energy consumption, each individual has to feel in her or his bones the burden to make a difference. And that idea of responsibility belonging to us individually is also one of the great lessons of community on levels going deeper than energy consumption...

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Colin A. Lamm said...

I definitely do not see the first part of this as a brag session. Rather it relates good ideas to the rest of us who do not live in intentional communities of things we should be more concerned about. Perhaps not all Christians are called to live in intentional communities, but we could perhaps learn a lot more about "community" and, in this case, our collective impact upon the environment by listening to those who do.

JP Paulus said...

i appreciate the honest thoughts about how environmentalism does and does not work at JPUSA, and the whys for both bad and good.

Some good stuff to reflect on...hope you guys are able to get a chance to try something!

i believe there was ashelter in Lakeview that was able to get a grant to use solar energy to heat the water tanks of a church that provdes showers for the shelter...the solar power basically pays for ALL the hot water of the church!

-B said...

Simple is better me thinks. When I purchased my used mini-van I did not want all the toys. Just a base model with crank windows, A/C, power locks. During the winter months I take the belt off my A/C so it doesn't run it saving just a little more gas thus a little more energy.

I just don't like my life being bogged down or complicated. Life's more peaceful when it is less cluttered and less complicated.

Question for you. Does JPUSA get any kind of tax break for living more efficiently?

chris said...

What a great post Jon! And boy did we score big on the compact flourescent lightbulbs from Ald. Helen Shiller's office yesterday! Martha and I redid our kid's rooms and passed them on to neighbors down the hall, as I'm sure you're doing on your floor. Aren't you!?!
I hear tell that Beth is interested in starting an orchard here on the roof of the Wilson Building where we work. Wouldn't that be cool? She and Deb, our recycling queen went to the Green convention last weekend and got some great ideas. All of this is an answer to prayer for me.
One thing I learned from my dad ( though was that reduced consumption of energy is always necessary even if we were to go "off-grid" with solar panels or wind generators. Even when the power source changes the consumption is still the heart of the change. And that's where our human lives must change!

Jon Trott said...

"-b" wrote: "Question for you. Does JPUSA get any kind of tax break for living more efficiently?"

Good question. And a complex one. Basically, we get some tax breaks because we individually live on a small yearly income (under the poverty line). That obviously means we pay less. But that, not the energy savings, is what determines what we owe Uncle Sam...

Jon Trott said...


Yes, I did distribute the new lightbulbs on my floor (this is part of a huge Chicago effort to boost energy saving via replacing old ones with these ultra-efficient mini-flourescents).

I was impressed when I replaced a sixty watt incandescent bulb in my own room with one of the new (15 watts!) bulbs. The brightness was as good as or better, and of course the heat it throws off is almost undetectable. My only question re their environmental safety is "What about the mercury?" Apparently, they contain mercury, which means when after four or five years (their life expectancy) they burn out, does the mercury cause a new environmental problem? I've not seen this addressed anywhere, though it probably has been.

Anyway, thanks to the City of Chicago, Mayor Daley, and our own Alderperson Helen Shiller, for the program which provides these bulbs.

Jon Trott said...

Oh, one more caveat re the new bulbs... they apparently do not work in some or most track lighting systems, as those don't know what to do with flourescent bulbs (many T.L. systems have dimmers, which do not work on flourescent bulbs).