Correcting Tiny Devastations

Last week I did an on-line test to check the carbon footprint of Tiny House Ontario; according to this particular test (link to details here: http://tinyhouseontario.com/2013/01/18/carbon-footprint/) the house and heat together use .003 metric tons of carbon (MTC) a year; however, with my lifestyle the numbers rocketed up to 3.01. This means I must make a lot of improvement in the way that I live to make the worldwide goal of 2 MTC/year. I challenge other Tiny Housers, as well as the wider community to take this free test.

Truthfully, I feel a lot better knowing the surrounding forest brings down this number substantially, as a matter of fact THO’s forest absorbs all my carbon and then some. This means that even if I drove a Hummer, I am personally carbon neutral. Contrarily, I want to find ways that I, can decrease my personal impact on the planet. So I went to the library in order to gain some more understanding on this difficult topic.

There I found Mike Berners-Lee’s easy-to-read book How Bad Are Bananas. In it, he explains that the footprint of lifestyle is bigger than the toe-print of a home. WHAT? I thought, you mean a mcmansion is less polluting than tiny me on my tiny motorbike? Sadly, this seems to be true.

Berners-Lee shows a diagram. In it, the toes represent: gas, electricity, and exhaust-pipe. The foot represent: flying, other, food and stuff. While reading, I was shocked to see that Tiny Housers, while trying to change the assumptions of society about the idea of need vs. want, and about our footprint on the earth are actually, only really facing somewhere between ¼ to ½ of the equation. We still eat, travel/fly, we still need stuff (albeit less), and we are still doing other activities, such as eating at restaurants, going to films, work and drinking. Indeed, it is the lifestyle of human beings that is the largest part of the problem.

Therefore, while Tiny Houses are doing their job for the environment, Tiny Housers may not be doing all they can to make their footprint… TINY.

I am not suggesting that Tiny Housers are driving Hummers and flying to Japan to dine on Kobe beef. What I am saying, is I am guilty. I see simple ways I can bring my carbon footprint down and because of this, I assume that others may also be making mistakes that can easily be adjusted.

Here are the three major ways in which I pollute.

1. I am a bit of a road tripper. I like to skip to town and visit friends, join them for a meal, attend music and writing events or simply to pick something up at the hardware store. I also enjoy getting on my motorbike to drive up the winding country roads just to feel the wind. To combat this, in 2013, I will try to keep better lists in order to combine errands into social or work related trips. I think I can decrease my kilometers traveled by half just by settling into a more organized routine.

2. Until a year and a half ago, I ate and drank as a “foodie” trying chocolate from Switzerland, treats out of Poland and so on; I tried food and beer from all around the world without knowing (or accepting) that my lifestyle was creating a lot of carbon in absolutely unnecessary ways. After becoming a Tiny Houser, I learned about the impact of my diet on the planet, so I made a lot of changes already. I eat a diet with a lower footprint now. I am vegan and I cook most of my own meals already. Even so, it is my hope that this summer will be a better growing season for my garden, and now with the better water catchment system underway, I should be able to supplement water in dry periods. This year, I will try again for a zero mile diet but this year I have actually got backup plans.

3. While I was aware that food has a footprint, I did not think of my land debt at the bank for land or Googling, as having a carbon footprint to the extent that it does. I don’t know yet what to do about using my computer except to say that I will try to be aware. As for the debt, obviously this has to go. So I will continue to pay it down; actually more proactively, I hope to earn a more money this summer so hopefully this goes well.

In short, I believe it is easy for me to make a few simple changes to reduce my impact on the planet. Further, I wish to both caution and challenge other Tiny Housers who while trying to set a good example, with respect to their home to be aware, by ignoring their lifestyle they also ignore the big picture when it comes to their footprint.

I respectfully submit that that as a movement if we do not tackle our lifestyle we are not really accomplishing the bulk of our goals. I hope that by being aware of our personal carbon footprint, that we as a group can be nearly as good as our brilliantly clever, lovely, environmentally conscious, Tiny Footprint, Tiny Homes.


Laura Moreland is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and lives in her tiny house in Eastern Ontario with her husband and four dogs. You can learn more about Laura through her website “Tiny House Ontario” here.

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14 Comments → “Correcting Tiny Devastations”


  1. Felix

    Jan 24, 2013

    I really liked your post. Just one question: Did you go vegan primarily over your carbon footprint or did other thoughts play a role as well? Even though I eat only organic meat for a while now wich makes me feel much better about it I still hate that so much plant material goes into producing a pound of meat.

    Oh. And BTW: I was looking into the carbon footprint of imported food for a while now and I found out that transportation is usually the smallest problem. Because the ships are so big the amount of co2 per item is very, very low. Other factors like packaging, how its farmed and if they cut down forest to produce it are producing way more emissions than transport. This also means that going extra miles to go to a special organic store or a farmers market in another county will give that food a worse carbon footprint than getting imported food somewhere close. But on the other hand I see a lot of value in supporting local farmers that farm sustainable. But so you don´t always have to feel bad for consuming goods from far away. That swiss chocolate could probably be OK.

    Best wishes from Germany.

    Felix

    Reply

    • Laura

      Jan 31, 2013

      Hi Felix,
      I am not sure if my comments will come up. There seems to be a glitch in my responses for the last little while.
      Yes, my becoming vegan had to do with my interest in ecology; however, it is not the only reason. There are probably a hundred small reasons for my reasoning to make this choice, but the single most compelling for me is to do with my personal discomfort with meat. As a child growing up on a farm, the flesh on my parents dinner table were personal friends of mine. I lived through the process of hand feeding, making pets out of them, the slaughter, the hanging, the butchering, the freezing, canning and cooking. I was never able to resolve the disparity between the way that I was expected to see a dog as a pet and a pig as supper. For me, the only difference was the personality of these animals and eating meat was never, what I would call comfortable.
      Once I realized that it was simply my tastebuds that allowed me to overlook suffering I could no longer use any animal products.
      With kind regards,
      xo
      Laura

      Reply

  2. Liz

    Jan 26, 2013

    You’re so willing to hear new information that I almost hate to tell you this. Unless all of your food is produced locally, your being vegan is not helping the planet very much. Much of what vegans eat in trying to get enough protein is produced far away, and at great cost, even if only to the locals. Quinoa, for instance, is now so popular that the people for whose diet it was once a staple can no longer afford to buy it. Indigenous peoples are going hungry so vegans (and others) can eat. Grass fed and range-grown meats that are local are far more sustainable, and not just carbon neutral, but negative.

    I’m looking for the references so you can read for yourself, but grazing animals are very good for the land if managed properly.

    I’m not saying don’t be vegan, but local is much more important in terms of carbon footprint.

    Reply

    • Colleen

      Jan 28, 2013

      There is so much misinformation out there and once people get a hold of it, they literally sink their teeth in. First of all, quinoa is eaten by many people; not just vegetarians and vegans. There is no proof at all to back up any claim that it is eaten predominantly by vegans. Since vegans make up only 1% of the population of the world at this point, I don’t think I have to point out that this argument about quinoa is now moot.

      I know very few vegans who actually eat quinoa or even know much about it. The craze over quinoa has more to do with the wandering appeal of the latest “superfood” than with vegetarians suddenly buying the stuff. It is a fad that is racing through, mostly, people who are trying to add healthy stuff to a very unhealthy diet. Everyone gets focused on one thing at a time instead of looking at the bigger picture.

      I agree that buying locally is a key factor for everyone. But it’s hard to buy locally when it comes to fruits and veggies in the winter in Canada. Again, we have to re-think the way we buy and grow food. It’s also scary to know what is on our food unless we are growing it ourselves.

      Deflecting attention from the facts does not make the truth any less truthful. For instance, is there any inquiry into how come “imported junk food” can end up cheaper than a cereal crop? Could it have something to do with US agri-subsidies which go 95% to meat and dairy, with no discrimination against huge, environmentally devastating factory farms?

      And come on…let’s face the biggest fact here; it’s not like eating meat has any social or environmental consequences, right? It is the biggest factor and people choose to ignore that while pointing fingers at the 1%. People really need to do more research or at least accept when something they are saying is absolutely false; it’s just easier to do than looking at what we can each do individually to make a change for the better for all – the planet and ALL beings on it; not just humans who devastate everything in their path and then call themselves top dog for having done so.

      Reply

      • Colleen

        Jan 28, 2013

        …further to my comment, The entire picture that is painted of the situation in Bolivia regarding quinoa is a blatant mis-characterization.

        There are positives and negatives of increased international consumption of quinoa for Bolivia, which the Morales government has pushed for, precisely because of the positives of increasing the livelihood of small-scale Bolivian farmers. Please look at the following link, which shows the steps the Bolivian government is taking to increase production so that quinoa consumption in Bolivia reverses its decline, making increased international consumption a pure positive for the country:

        http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/bolivia-fights-food-shortages-by-investing-big-bucks-in-non-gmo-seeds.htm

        People tend to find it easier to demonize the consumer rather than the suppliers (not growers), who enforce these deteriorating conditions and should, more often, be the focus. Light would be better shed on facts about the machinations of the supply chain and notable organisations involved.

        Reply

    • Colleen

      Jan 28, 2013

      Liz said above, “Much of what vegans eat in trying to get enough protein is produced far away, and at great cost, even if only to the locals.”

      The comment about not being able to find enough protein is not only absolutely false but also insulting to anyone who actually knows the facts. There is protein in everything (fruits veggies legumes etc.). The amount of protein we need is supplied by these foods. Animal protein is the cause of much disease and people get way more protein than they need, and of a type that is killing them – derived from animals. Please make sure you have your facts straight before making these totally false claims. Misleading people is why things are so screwed up. Please leave that to the meat/dairy industries – they profit hugely from people who believe their propaganda.

      Reply

      • Laura

        Jan 31, 2013

        Thank you Colleen for your insightful and well researched responses.
        xo
        Laura

        Reply

    • Laura

      Jan 31, 2013

      Hi Liz,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I agree that getting local food is also very important to keeping my footprint small. Since the national average is 20 and mine is just over 3, I don’t think I am doing that bad but I do believe that I can do better without much difficulty. Knowledge, for me, gives me the power to adapt.
      xo
      Laura

      Reply

  3. John W. Abert

    Jan 26, 2013

    Your article was interesting, but you seemed to have skipped over a critical issue of a lot of these tiny houses being built on a rolling frame that takes a huge gas guzzler to get down the road when they are moved. What is the point of worrying about carbon footprints on a tiny home when it takes that much energy to take it somewhere? And that also takes into consideration the weight and wind resistance when doing so!

    I could easily live in a tiny house if it was built on a foundation or over a full basement, but for inexperienced builders to build one with the idea of dragging it down the road is ludicrous, let alone sell it other people! There’s no codes or industry standards to ensure they are getting a quality product!

    RV manufacturers have been in business for years and have the experience to build things that will withstand all the bumps and vibration of travel, build them lighter, and with less wind resistance, not to mention more storage and conventional systems, so if I want something portable, I’m going to the people with experience who have to meet the necessary codes and industry standards designed to produce a quality unit that also protects me as a buyer. Those units will have nearly as small a carbon footprint because it will be offset by the use of a much smaller and fuel efficient vehicle to move them down the road.

    Also, anyone in the industry can tell you that anything with a metal frame under it depreciates, and that includes park models. On the other hand, even if it is built as “modular” (built in a factory but moved to a permament foundation), then it will appreciate the same as other real estate around it. “Metal-framed” vehicles built by professional manufacturers are listed in the NADA books, and that’s what determines their value, and has nothing to do with what land they may be setting on. So no matter where you park it, you are going to get screwed royally when it comes time to sell it! In some states the purchase of such may even include two titles, one for the “vehicle” and one for the land, with separate financing contracts.

    I made the mistake of buying a custom-designed, top-of-the-line “metal-framed” park model once, that was built just like a house, with all standard house components, including all sheet-rock interior, super-insulated, architectural grade shingles, solid oak cabinets and much more. It was still ike brand new six years later when we sold it, and we lost $26,000 on it in those six years (by the NADA book), so I will NEVER buy another one as a dwelling EVER again, no matter what kind of carbon footprint it has!

    “Modular” is OK. But if someone says “manufactured”… you need to run away as fast as you can (holding tight to your wallet in the process)!

    But if someone has a tiny house (without a metal frame) built over a walk-out basement somewhere in the southwest that they want to part with, I might be interested.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Jan 31, 2013

      Hi John,
      You are right, I did not touch on the issue of Tiny Houses on the move. I assumed, that people know that Tiny Houses are not RV’s. These Tiny Houses with wheels are built this way only so that they can be moved to a location and then moved again only if the owner needs to relocate or to sell.
      If you want to move around a lot, I agree, a Tiny House is probably not the best option.
      xo
      L

      Reply

  4. Molly

    Jan 27, 2013

    Your posts are always so full of information and thought provoking. I look forward to them every week!

    I do agree that there are so many choices in our lives that have such a huge impact on the world. Where we live is one of them, but there are others that have a bigger impact. It’s hard sometimes for me trying to balance enjoying my life while being gentle on the Earth. I live in a small town, and it’s a 20 mile drive each way just to buy groceries, but my quality of life benefits so much from living away from bigger, more developed towns. There are things we can each do; we all need to find that right balance for each of us.

    Reply

    • Laura

      Jan 31, 2013

      Thank you Molly,
      I appreciate your compliment. :-D
      Too, I agree. The key is to think about it and do what you can.
      xo
      L

      Reply

  5. Oldfolks

    Jan 27, 2013

    A very interesting article. I was especially interested the vegan section. Did you know that eating bovines reduces the amount of methane in the atmosphere? That is how I do my bit.

    Reply

    • Colleen

      Jan 28, 2013

      Did you really mean to say that eating bovines reduces the amount of methane in the atmosphere? I hope that was sarcasm. lol Breeding ridiculous amounts of them unnaturally to meet the supply and demand of people who eat them is what increases the methane that wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Factory farms are devastating to the environment. Again, people really need to check their information.

      Livestock operations are the primary source of climate changing greenhouse gases, and present a far greater ecological problem than the gases produced by all forms of transportation combined, according to a 2006 U.N. report. The human appetite for animal flesh is also a driving force behind air and water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, and fresh water scarcity. There is profit involved and that’s why this is not what we are told. But the information is out there; people just need to take responsibility and look it up instead of turning the other way, which allows it to perpetuate. I was astounded by what I learned once I started to actually take responsibility in looking into it for myself. I was totally ignorant of what was going on while I was absolutely complicit in it.

      The fact is it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh, making meat consumption unsustainable. We literally need to make the decision whether or not we continue to feed animals or people. Why filter your nutrients through animal flesh, get all these diseases from it (look it up – that’s a fact), and then use plant-based items to season it so that it tastes good? Seriously, real carnivores (whose bodies are made to digest other animals) actually eat the entire animal – eyeballs, intestines, fur, brains, colon, etc. – they don’t buy them nicely packaged from the grocery store and they certainly don’t pen them up in horrific conditions, feed them what’s unnatural for them to eat, and then put them through a horrific death on top of it. This is what happens. Again, looking away perpetuates it. There is a much bigger picture than what people want to see. But it’s not going away.

      For those of you who think that this doesn’t have an affect on the starving humans in the world, the Western world’s greed, selfishness and diet is the cause of poverty in these third world nations and we need to change our arrogant and supremacist attitude before it’s too late. The forces that have created, and continue to drive, world hunger are all based on the same ‘might makes right’ mentality that animal exploitation is built on.

      As Will Tuttle says in his Book The World Peace Diet: “It’s a small step from disconnecting from the suffering we cause animals we see as food or property to disconnecting from the suffering we cause people we see as outsiders or expendable or poor or weak or dangerous or different from us.”

      Here is a link to part of the United Nations Environment Program Report in video form (if anyone is interested in seeing what’s actually happening as opposed to what we have been told our whole lives. Being blind to it drives profits.)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taNR9dvF7c8

      And if you have three weeks to read the report from the U.N., (LOL) here is a link…
      http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf

      Reply

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