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From a strictly mathematical standpoint, our new grid-tied solar panels did not give the environment the biggest possible bang for our buck. Donating $10,000 worth of CFLs to the Salvation Army to distribute to needy families probably would have made a much bigger impact. But part of my motivation in shrinking our personal environmental footprint was to serve as an example to those who operate under the mistaken belief that taking care of the Earth means sacrificing all your creature comforts and running away to live in the woods with the Rainbow Family.

A year or so ago, I arranged for John Miggins of Harvest Solar to give a presentation on alternative energy to Tulsa’s local Mensa chapter. It was a great presentation, and most of the members asked good questions and had interesting things to say. But John and I were thoroughly dismayed by the reaction he got from a member who claimed to be an environmental science teacher, but whose comments on the subject made Jim Inhofe look like Gaylord Nelson.

When I described for this woman the simple changes I’d made to reduce my environmental footprint, her response was something between pity and raw contempt. It was pretty clear that she thought I was living in a hovel unfit for human habitation, and no amount of explanation was going to convince her otherwise.

Her attitude and ignorance were appalling, but they made me realize the desperate need for real-life examples of ordinary people living ordinary lives without wreaking havoc on the environment in the process. I realized that every dinner party I threw, every basket of produce I took to the office, every bouquet of flowers or jar of honey I shared with a friend could serve as a testimonial to the benefits of doing right by the environment.

Life is good here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. As I write this, our power meter is running backwards, watermelon is ripening on the vine behind the back fence, and Scout and I are enjoying an omelet Ron made for us out of the eggs our hens laid yesterday. I just brought in five enormous cucumbers, a dozen ripe tomatoes, a half-dozen hot peppers, and a handful of fresh okra pods from the garden.

Last night, I canned a gallon of homemade salsa made from my heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and this evening, I’ll bake a blackberry cobbler — sweetened with honey produced by our bees — while I put up pickles and hot sauce. I need to scrub down the dehydrator so I can dry some basil and peppermint.

We’re going to get in Ron’s Honda Insight and take a Sunday drive in a little while, because I want to check out the LED lamps and camping gear at the Bass Pro Shop. (I’ve got a couple of energy-saving ideas I’m experimenting with; more on that later.)

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to collect photos and sounds for a virtual open house that will give all our blog readers a glimpse into the realities of life in the carpool lane. I’ll also be doing a series of posts on simple ways to reduce your environmental footprint.

Stay tuned. 🙂



I never was the most liberal, tree-hugging member of any party. So how did I become the type of person who now recycles, drives a hybrid, and is about to place power-producing solar panels on my home?

I guess I could say that I married into the environmental movement, which is true. But that’s too easy of an explanation.

One of the first inklings of my interest in alternative housing was in college, when a newspaper article told about actor Dennis Weaver building a house in Colorado made with discarded tires. I distinctly recall reading that Weaver’s house had a constant, year-round temperature like a cave, so that it would cost much less to heat and cool during seasonal extremes. I remember how cool I thought that was.

I didn’t have the chance until the Internet age to further research Weaver’s house, which I discovered was an Earthship. Emily and I ultimately didn’t build an Earthship (maybe someday), but it sparked a lot of ideas on how to lessen our power consumption and improve our home’s climate control.

But my interest in environmentally friendly methods goes back further, while growing up on the farm in the Midwest. My grandfather used passive solar heat to help dry the grain that he harvested instead of relying so much on noisy, power-eating electric dryers. A few dozen miles away, another farmer erected a wind turbine and generated enough power during some months to get the electric company to pay him.

But it wasn’t just neato gadgets and new ways to pinch pennies. My parents also instilled in us that we were stewards of the land, that it was our duty to leave it in as good or better condition for the next generation of farmers. That led to no-till planting to conserve the topsoil. That led to cutting back on the use of herbicides and insecticides because my family instinctively knew that overuse of such chemicals was harmful.

It wasn’t Al Gore or Iron Eyes Cody or, God forbid, Earth First! that ultimately led me to being more environmentally responsible. It was my years on the windswept Illinois prairie.