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See below for inspiring stories about everyday people taking their climate action steps

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One of the two biggest challenges in reducing the climate impact of our off-grid home is heating (the other being transportation). For heating, most off-grid homes rely exclusively on burning fuel, whether fossil fuel (propane) or renewable (wood). Burning propane releases CO2, and burning wood, while not contributing as much to climate change, creates smoke that we cannot tolerate.

The renewable, climate-friendly, clean-air options are

  1. Solar thermal heating: water circulates through panels on the roof, gaining heat from the sunlight, then circulates through the floor or radiators to heat the house.

  2. Air source heat pump: pulls heat from the exterior air and transfers it either directly to the indoor air (via a "mini-split") or to water that circulates through the floor or radiators to heat the house. We don't want forced air heating, so in our case, it would be an air-water heat pump.

  3. Ground source heat pump: pulls heat from the ground by circulating water through a closed ground loop and then circulates the water through the floor or radiators to heat the house.

Over the past two years, we've learned a lot about the trade-offs in these approaches.

Solar thermal heating is more complicated than it seems, involving many valves, controllers, and water storage tanks. Because of the complexity, it requires an expert to design, install, and maintain the system. After soliciting several bids, we found that the system required to heat even a small, well-insulated house like ours exceeded our budget. Because solar thermal systems are difficult to maintain, they have a poor reputation in the real estate market. The money invested in them may not be reflected in an increase in the house's value, even though it offsets the cost of heating it. They also generate excess heat in the summer, which is wasted and can overheat the equipment.

Air source heat pumps work well at low elevations and moderate temperatures. Since they pull heat out of the exterior air, their efficiency decreases at high elevations and cold temperatures. Units that perform well in cold temperatures have only come on the market recently. We had trouble finding contractors with experience designing and installing these relatively new systems, and they couldn't guarantee that they would work well to offset our heating needs. The exterior unit also needs to be mounted above the level of the drifting snow, which is not an easy requirement to meet where we live and adds to the expense. We concluded that it was difficult to tell whether an air-source heat pump could run on the amount of electric energy we had to spare and offset our heating needs enough to justify the expense and complication of the system.

Ground-source heat pumps have the advantage of not being affected by cold air temperatures, and the technology is well-established, having been in use for decades. They maintain their efficiency at high altitudes as well. The downside is that building the ground loop requires either excavating a large area to a depth of 5-6 feet (not something we would be willing to do) or drilling a well similar to our water well at a significant cost. We have spoken with several contractors who design and install ground-source heat pump systems and are waiting to receive and evaluate their bids. We are hopeful that we can afford to switch our primary heat to a ground-source heat pump system and move our propane fireplace to the role of backup heat to use during snowstorms and particularly cold spells.

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Updated: May 13

Like clothing, diet is an area where passionate climate activists often disagree! Both armed with scientific data, one person may argue that we must all become vegan to survive, while another claims that regenerative farming of animals is our best hope for carbon sequestration.

So I'll start with what we can agree on: eating a diet rich in organically grown vegetables and whole fruits is healthier for our bodies AND the planet. We are growing our own vegetables and buying vegetables from local organic farmers. We could certainly eat a larger volume of vegetables than we currently do! We are adding more greens into our diet, which we both enjoy and are easy to grow here.

We generally eat a vegetarian breakfast. One of us digests oatmeal and dairy well, and makes homemade oatmeal or granola for breakfast, along with dried fruit, nuts, and organic yogurt or milk. The other does better with a fruit, nut, and seed-based smoothie. Snacks of fruit, nuts, and carrots also work well for us.

Making our other meals vegetarian is trickier because of our food allergies. We both have trouble digesting legumes, although we can tolerate small amounts of black beans, green beans, and snap peas each week. We can't eat soybeans, and chickpeas, pinto beans, navy beans, lentils, etc, are problematic. We are also completely intolerant of wheat, and one of us can't eat much dairy and dislikes eggs, while the other has trouble with cruciferous vegetables, garlic, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. We have discovered that taking digestive enzymes along with the problematic foods helps, except for dairy and gluten. Still, we are much better off largely avoiding the foods we don't tolerate.

So at this point, we are consuming small quantities of meat, poultry, and fish. We are doing our best to source it locally and be sure that the animals are fed their natural diet and treated well. As we learn more about carbon sequestration through regenerative farming practices, we support our local farmers in moving in that direction. (See our blog post on our local grass-fed beef).

Since we've learned which enzymes help us digest some of the legumes, we are slowly increasing the amount of protein we get from plant sources, adding a few meals each week based on black beans. We also love vegetable-rich curries, stir-fries, and vegetable medleys. To further decrease our meat consumption, we've found that it helps to list the vegetarian foods we CAN eat, and to source them fresh, organic, and locally, to maximize our enjoyment of them:

Root vegetables: carrots, potatoes, onions, and beets

Greens: chard, kale, arugula, and leaf lettuces

Nightshades: tomatoes, eggplant, and chili peppers

Grains: Brown rice, wild rice, corn, oatmeal, and oat milk

Squash of all kinds

Herbs, spices, curry, olives, mustard, balsamic vinegar

Fruit, especially berries




Black beans, green beans, and snap peas (in small quantities with enzymes for both of us)

Cruciferous vegetables, garlic, and sweet potatoes (in small quantities with enzymes for one of us)

Cheese (in small quantities with enzymes for both of us) and yogurt, milk, and cream for one of us

We limit our consumption of prepared foods to dishes we can't prepare ourselves properly: corn and almond-flour tortillas, locally made gluten-free bread, and food from Mexican, Indian, Thai, and sushi restaurants.

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Updated: Apr 19

Clothing, like diet, is an area fraught with emotional conflicts among environmentalists. I've worn a merino shirt and leather boots on a hike with a vegan clad all in fibers derived from fossil fuels.

So in my usual way, I'm looking for multiple good approaches here, and selecting several that work in our particular situation, rather than trying for a best recommendation for everyone:

  • First, a no-brainer: we buy durable clothing that fits our style and our bodies, but doesn't follow fast fashion trends, so that we can wear it for many years. For us, durable self-expression comes in the form of sweaters, jeans, flannel shirts, and boots.

  • Second, we have very limited clothing for situations we aren't in often (such as working in person, and vacationing in other climates).

  • To maximize the lifetime of our clothing, we wash our clothes in cold water with gentle detergents, and do not use the dryer. We've also learned that we need to avoid elastane because it quickly degrades in the intense UV at our altitude. Any stretchy items like underwear need to dry indoors on a hanger.

  • We aren't able to buy or accept gifts of used clothing, because it is virtually impossible to remove the artificial fragrance that permeates thrifted items, and Ota is so sensitive to petrochemicals that she can't live in the same space with items that are emitting even small amounts of laundry fragrance. For those without this disability, recycling clothing is a great way to reduce impact. We can only participate in clothing recycling by donating items, and we do this regularly when an item no longer fits.

  • When clothing becomes torn or stained and isn't in good enough condition to donate, we wear it for gardening or tear it up to use for cleaning rags. (In the picture above, I'm wearing an old plaid shirt with iron stains from washing it in well water where we lived years ago, and jeans that shrank and are now too short. Both are still comfortable and useful items of clothing!)

  • We are selective about the quality of the clothing we buy. We'd rather pay a little more for fewer items that are made in an environmentally conscious way (for example, organic rather than regular cotton).

  • There's a lot of greenwashing out there and you can find supposedly scientific analyses that claim manmade fibers are more sustainable. Because the research is being supported by clothing manufacturers that are profiting from the high margins for clothing made of artificial fibers, we are skeptical, and we frankly prefer natural fibers to those derived from fossil fuels, so most of our clothing is made of natural fibers like cotton, wool, and alpaca, although there are categories of clothing (for example, wetsuits and ski pants) that are tough to fill with natural fiber examples, so we do have some clothing that is pretty much plastic.

  • Just as beef can come from a miserable feedlot cow that is making far more methane than average because of its diet and contributing to nitrogen runoff into a river or from a cow that is contentedly eating grass and helping sequester carbon on a small family farm, natural fibers can be produced by regenerative agriculture. One certification to look for is "climate beneficial." The article linked above includes a list of clothing manufacturers using regenerative practices, including Sheep Inc, which sells carbon-negative merino sweaters. They are pricey, but each garment can cost more if you're buying fewer. The additional $ spent are advocacy. We also buy from indigenous artisans, who source their fibers from animals grazing on the land.

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