Dispatch from the Edge of a City

Seasonal variation in household sustainability

A light morning mist over the neighborhood pond, 42nd parallel north. April 6, 2022. Photo by author.

The air outside is warmer this morning with a light mist.

Our indoor bird companions (two cockatiels) are adapting to our earlier schedule and chirping along with the birds outside as my son and I rustle about and begin our work from home routine. Since we’re forging a new work environment this week, I started drinking coffee again after a few week hiatus of only drinking breakfast teas. It’s a nice change every so often.

Soon enough I can enjoy a morning tea or coffee on the balcony, as the average daily temperatures rise and we can use our balcony more often for fresh air. This also means we will use less energy for heating the apartment and the energy bill will (hopefully) decrease significantly.

Heating was a burdensome expense this past winter. Since I opted for the renewable energy option of having home energy use allocated to 85% wind and solar sources, it was more of a cost burden than the previous winter. I called the energy company last week and asked how much more my energy bill is since making the switch. They said it was a 9% average cost increase to switch to renewable from nonrenewable energy sources.

It seems strange to me that the specific cost of renewable energy is passed on directly to the consumer, rather than averaged into the full portfolio of energy sources at the utility company. I’m still pondering what might be a better regulatory policy for this, but I need more information. It is yet another project on my overall agenda, but certainly one of the more interesting ones.

In any case, this is the time of year I can turn off the heating system altogether and it is very satisfying to do so. And yes, I do have a fair collection of vests.

Household sustainability is not just about temperature — it’s distance. Our mobility and modes of transit. For me, the goal is to drive less. I cannot afford an electric or hybrid vehicle, so I still rely on the dinosaurs to get around.

I am fortunate that I can work from home and also at a place only a few miles away. I need to get another bicycle, and preferably one I can carry upstairs to my apartment. The last one was stolen from the neighborhood bike rack, which was very annoying. It’s not easy to replace something that costs a few hundred dollars, so I haven’t purchased a new one yet.

Oh, the affordability of sustainability.

We live on the edge of a city and there is a bus system I sometimes use when it’s reliable and can get me to where I need to go within an hour. Primarily my approach has been to travel less and batch errands into one trip. There are a few farm stands within a five mile radius of where I live, and every so often I make a round (yes by car) to see what goods they have for sale. Someday I will be quite content to travel this route by bicycle, but some of these city edge roads are not friendly to anything but cars. I still live in car country, as so many of us do.

Essentially, I like to contemplate what energy use looks like in daily life. It can be a complicated mix: where and how you live, what modes of transit are available to you, where you work and how far you must travel to get there.

Much of my natural light is northern, and I work from home, so I tend to use lamps throughout the day. My apartment is dark. Still, I try to reduce energy consumption as well as I can. There is always more I can do, such as be consistently mindful of turning off power strips to reduce phantom loads. I can probably replace a few more light bulbs with LEDs — if I turn on the light at all, that is, since I have grown accustomed to the dark.

But there are some things that are not affordable and are completely out of reach — especially since my rent will go up later this year significantly (I’d better buy that bike soon!). As I sink further into my rent trap I wonder what this will mean for further access to work and opportunity, let alone sustainability.

There are prevailing trends to focus on individual consumer behavior, but collectively as a society, we need to create more sustainable systems. Until then, there is only incremental change and it’s not enough.

Essay 002 of the 0100 series.

© Dawn Nelson, 2022

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