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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Seeing our property as a spaceship

My wife and I live on a 2 1/2 acre rural property in coastal Maine.  Our 2000 ft.² house (pictured on the left and 1100 ft.² workshop (right) are on the front part of the property which gets a lot of good sun.  The back half of the property is wooded.   

Sometimes I think of our property in terms of a spaceship in the sense that we operate within a largely closed ecosystem.  We have a deep drilled well that goes down over 150 feet into the granite that provides reliable freshwater.  And our waste goes out through a 1000 gallon septic tank and into a leach field.  The solids are pumped out every 5 years by a company that delivers the waste to a company that converts it to fertilizer.  So our water system is effectively a closed loop much as it is on the International Space Station where some waste is jettsoned.   

Similarly, we generate a more than half of our electrical energy on an annualized basis from our 5.7 kW solar array which not only powers both buildings but also charges our Chevy Volt electric vehicle.  When utility power fails as it did in a recent snowstorm where we lost power for two days, our 5 kW propane generator automatically kicks in to power the entire property.  We keep enough propane stored in the tanks (pictured above right) to operate the generator for over a week and have relied on it for up to five days during extended storm outages.  

Domestic hot water in the house is largely heated by the solar collectors on the south wall of the house (visible below the windows), and 4 solar collectors contribute a large percentage of the heat to my workshop in the winter.  Both buildings utilize propane heaters as primary or secondary heat sources, and both have substantial wood stoves.  The fire wood we burn is sourced locally, and much of the firewood for my workshop is hand cut by me from our own woods.  Again, our energy sources are largely independent and we do our best to limit our use of propane.

Being conscious of this largely closed/locally sourced ecosystem of our property informs my perspective about living sustainably.  For the first part of my adult life I lived in urban environments - mostly in rented artists lofts and realize looking back that this filtered my perspective.  I was completely disconnected from the energy sources and resources that I used.  As a renter I never paid a water or sewer bill directly, and even the electric bill was an affordable abstraction.

I have a sense of comfort and also pride in full ownership of my property and the bulk of my resources.  I am also aware that I am fortunate to be the kind of person who can fix almost anything and rarely have to bring in any kind of contractor, or service person.  Many of my rural neighbors take this lifestyle completely for granted which explains the stereotypical independent Maine character.

I wish that more people had the opportunity to live as I do and be fully conscious of the infrastructure that supports me.  Since 2009 more than 50% of humanity now lives in an urban environment.  This level of disconnect from energy sources and the natural environment is affecting humanity's perception in unfortunate ways.  If we could all just zoom back all the way to look at our beautiful blue marble planet as the finite resource that it is, I think humanity at large would be far more committed to living sustainably.

Astronaut Reid Wiseman has been on the ISS for months now and posts stunning pictures  of Earth via twitter almost daily.  Like anyone who has been in space he falls passionately in love with our beautiful planet - he took the picture at the top of my page.  Similarly Canadian astronaut commander Chris Hadfield has just released a beautiful photo book of the pictures he took from the space station.  Everyone who has the opportunity of seeing the earth from space goes through a spiritual transformation based on that perspective.

I invite you, my dear reader to pull back your cosmic zoom to encompass the infrastructure that surrounds you all the way from your sources of power and water on out to a full view of the planet.  We all live on spaceship Earth with very finite resources that we are abusing at a staggering rate.  It's time we all woke up and took full responsibility for every aspect of our energy consumption.