The Word for 2013: Moderation

Oscar Wilde. He knew how to dress warmly./Public Domain

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

Ascribed to Oscar Wilde. and, Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I started writing for TreeHugger in 2004 Graham Hill asked for a bio that defined my philosophy. I wrote at the time:

In the course of his work developing small residential units and prefabs, Lloyd became convinced that we just use too much of everything- too much space, too much land, too much food, too much fuel, too much money, and that "the key to sustainability is to simply use less. And, the key to happily using less is to design things better.

I think I am going to put that back on my bio page. When I wrote The Design Stories of 2012 That Will Resonate in 2013 I concluded that Moderation would be my theme for 2013. I wrote last year about air conditioning in particular:

In the end, it is all about moderation; about designing our homes better so they don't need as much air conditioning, if any. It's about reinforcing the cultural aspects of where we live instead of hiding inside. It's about having a discussion, not a culture war.

But it also applies to everything from house design, to diet, driving and dress. It's a way of life, going back to the Greeks, who inscribed over the Temple of Delhi:

μηδὲν ἄγαν - Nothing in Excess.

That's what I recommended to one of my students at Ryerson University, where I teach sustainable design; She asked what she should do to go green if she couldn't afford to drive a Prius or put a solar panel on her roof. I suggested a menu of moderation and urbanity. The two seem to go together.

Some examples:

Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Live in walkable, transit oriented communities, whether large cities or small towns.

With all due respect to the Green Gizmo Gang, study after study is showing that how we get around is the biggest factor in our carbon footprint. From Alex Wilson with his Transportation Energy Intensity to Kaid Benfield with his demolition of green sprawl , it's clear that where you are is as important as what you build.

Gary Chang/Screen capture

Live in Smaller Spaces, preferably in multifamily, multi-unit buildings, or on top of the store on main street, where you share your walls with others.

They don't all have to be like Gary Chang's Hong Kong Transformer, nor do they have to be a tiny house. But they don't have to be 2700 square feet either.

If you want a single family house with a yard, get it in an older, denser, walkable neighbourhood and fix it up to a pretty good standard.

© Franke James

Get a bike. You don't have to go all Franke and get rid of your car, they are fun on weekends. But don't use it for everything.

This one is so obvious, and the research just keeps coming.

Forty percent of all trips are made within two miles of home. Analysis by the Sierra Club shows that if American drivers were to make just one four-mile round trip each week with a bicycle instead of a car, they would save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, total savings would be $7.3 billion a year.

© Rocky Mountain Institute

Do the simple, cheap, low hanging fruit things that cost either nothing or very little.

The Rocky Mountain Institute figured this out ten years ago; I wish they would update their fabulous bang-for-the-buck Cool Citizens Guide. It showed that changing light bulbs and thermostats were far more effective than the expensive new windows and solar panels, at far lower cost. The moderate, easy things.

© Lantmannnen Foods

Eat less red meat.

This is the most shocking bit of moderation. Our founder Graham Hill has been preaching his idea of the weekday vegetarian, but if your main reason for not eating meat is to reduce your carbon footprint, then it's time to look again. In fact, cheese is almost as bad as red meat, and a hothouse tomato is worse than chicken.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Eat Local and Seasonal

Don't fall for any of the Pierre Desrochers or Freakonomics crap about local not being any better; there are ways to enjoy local food, bought in season when it's cheap, and enjoying it year round, through canning or freezing or just making appropriate choices.

Put on a sweater.

Steve Mouzon has written that "because we are too lazy to put on a sweater or take off a jacket, we have let the thermostat and the mechanical engineer behind it change the way we make buildings."

"Moderation, we find, is an extremely difficult thing to get in this country.”

Flann O'Brien was writing about Ireland, but it could easily apply here. From politics to design, moderation has gone out the window. But just doing with a bit less, driving a bit less, building a bit less would make such a big difference. Nothing else seems to have worked; perhaps a plea for moderation might. That's what I am going to look for this year.

Tags: Less Is More | Living With Less

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