While the media pounds us with global economic woes, the news of the largest recession in seventy years, I prefer to think of it as an overdue “social correction.” Clearly with human population continually rising and our worship of growth at all costs, there was bound to be some constraint emerging. In following the common credo of limitlessness we continue to spiral into short-term thinking that compromises future generations. I believe it is time to consider the wisdom of past generations

My Great Gramma Schmidt lived to be 104 years old. Up until her last days, she was sharp and her wisdom and shared experiences were gifts I will always treasure. I have kept track of some of her sayings and pieces of advice. Such common sense is rarely heard anymore.

One phrase, a favorite of mine, is especially appropriate these days when jobs seem insecure and household budgets are tightened. Gramma often repeated, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I would like to see someone take that slogan, and others of similar ilk, and create bold, colorful posters similar to the large war bonds posters that graced our nation during WW II. The posters could be hung in schools, libraries, post offices and other public locations. Perhaps the sales of such posters could be used to fight the increase in poverty.

The other night was the observation of Earth Hour 2009. Around the world, people shut off lights for one hour in an attempt to bring awareness to the need to reduce energy use and conserve resources to counter high carbon emissions. Organizers had hoped to sign up 1,000 cities. The week before the event, almost 2,400 cities, towns and municipalities in 83 countries had agreed to take part in the event. Nearly 19,000 businesses and 5,500 organizations also signed on. The goal was to cut energy consumption by5% an hour. However, if we as inhabitants of earth hope to substantially reduce carbon emissions we will have to far better than a 5% savings.

I don’t know how participants in the Yukon fared, but just south of us, in British Columbia, and far more people, the province experienced a 1.1 % power drop. It was reported that if residents of British Columbia implemented the same conservation measures that they did during Earth Hour for one hour every evening, enough power would be saved to power 2,400 homes for an entire year.

I managed to make it through the hour without a single light. But it did help in that this northerly latitude is experiencing leaps in lengthening days.

Last month our electric bill, all generated by carbon free hydropower, generated by a dam on the Yukon River in Whitehorse, was approximately $30. Last fall it was about $38 per month. So Nancy and I have saved approximately 20% on our household electric bill and we could do better.

Since just prior to Christmas of 2008, we have been experimenting with more intentional means to lessen our energy use. We try to limit our trips to Whitehorse, 25 miles away, to one trip per week. We buy groceries, go to the library, and maybe get in a cross-country ski workout at Mt. Mac, followed by a sauna and shower at the Nordic/curling center and often an evening arts event.

It has been over three months since I turned off our electric hot water heater. We could think of no reason to have a 40-gallon tank of hot water sitting there when we draw upon it only minimally, so we turned it off. Instead, we heat two large pots or a teakettle over the wood stove. We wash dishes once a day, wash up and even imbibe in wonderful sponge baths while standing in small plastic tubs placed next to the warmth of the wood stove.

Or I take hot water from the teakettle and pour it into our solar shower bag that we take camping or use here in the summer. Then I hang the shower bag over the showerhead in our bathroom and stand in the tub for a quiet shower. And I find that I can use my hot grey water for washing a small load of laundry that I squish with my feet as I shower. The final rinsing of the clothes is done in boiling water from the woodstove. The wooden drying rack for mitts, gloves, boot liners and outdoor gear is directly behind the wood stove and it makes a wonderful laundry dryer as well.

Larger loads of laundry make the trip to Whitehorse with us each week or two for a trip to the Laundromat. Nothing puzzles me more than when I hear of folks who feel a need to wash a load of clothing every day or two. Granted babies, young children and some jobs require more washing, but most folks are simply wearing out their expensive designer jeans much faster by subjecting them to the rigors of frequent washings. Wash clothes less often and you will benefit from cost savings from an energy standpoint as well as your clothing budget.

Every week or so we treat ourselves to the blissful pressure of a hot water shower and turn on the electric hot water heater for one hour. Consequently, a simple shower has become a more wondrous and amazing event. I find it incongruous when folks wrinkle up their noses at the thought of not having a daily shower or washing a load of laundry multiple times each week.

The other plus side is that since early last November, we have used less than 1500 gallons of water in our house. That amounts to about 12.5 gallons per day for the two of us.

The recent thirty-dollar electric bill was not bad considering we must have lights on much of the time during the long, dark winter nights. We also have the computer on for at least eight hours a day. The computer is a major energy user. We have the computer, printer and modem plugged into a power strip and that is switched off every night or when we know when we will be gone from the Outpost all day. We have developed a habit of unplugging the microwave after each use. It is estimated that 5 per cent of all household energy used in typical homes powers vampire electronics. These appliances include any device that has a digital readout, such as a clock. TVs, microwaves, cell phone chargers, DVD players and other electronics use the power for instant-on features.

Recently the Globe Mail newspaper out of Toronto published an alarming point regarding the electricity used by a single plasma TV over a year for the instant on feature is huge. The energy required is enough to illuminate up to 14,500 one hundred watt light bulbs for an hour!

Since we have no television, we save both on the electric bill and on mindless staring. We do enjoy watching an occasional DVD movie and use the computer for our indoor theater.

Funny, how choosing to do with less, in terms of television, washing clothes or even shaving frequently give Nancy and I more time to share time exploring another snowshoe hike to check out the local herd of caribou or to sit down with a cup of tea around the wood burning stove and read aloud. Perhaps the greatest reward has been that we have enjoyed more quality time together and have a far greater appreciation for simple pleasures.

So how will I do without the woodstove providing my hot water in a month or two? As I write this, I am researching and sketching a design for a simple, inexpensive solar hot water batch heater. The challenge is on.

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