Our monthly carbon challenge

Cooking on gas

The Project 90 team has decided to set ourselves a monthly carbon challenge in our pursuit of living a low carbon lifestyle. Last month we had our first carbon challenge:  to use no electricity for 24 hours.

Millions of South Africans and billions of people around the world live without access to electricity. We know that we all take electricity for granted. So we decided to find out (and remind ourselves) what it is actually like to live without it…for one day.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it, but how did we all fare? There were mixed feelings about the exercise but the overriding feeling was that it was DIFFICULT! And to be honest I was really surprised at how difficult it was.

Some people in the group felt that the exercise demonstrated how dependent we are on electricity:  fridges, stoves, lights, TVs, radios, computers, toasters, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, drills, saws, pool pumps,  electric fences, electric gates, fish pumps, the list is endless.

Others in the group felt that the exercise was pointless, and rather than creating awareness about how much electricity we use, it was just an exercise in deprivation. If we are trying to encourage people to change the way they live, suffering and deprivation is not an inspiring context for most and could end up alienating people rather than drawing them in. We are trying to create a positive alternative lifestyle and get away from the perception that going green means going without and living under a rock in hessian underpants!

If everyone at Project 90 are all electricity conscious already, was there a point in having none at all? Perhaps the problem was that we live in a city, where it is almost impossible to live without some form of electricity. Many people in our group often went camping or hiking without electricity which was an enjoyable experience.

Robert's family making a fire for supper

We all agreed that our next challenge should link to mindset change and be something that speaks to living well. We’ll let you know next month how it went.

“An extremely useful experience to realise how dependent we are on electricity, actually in almost everything we do”

Robert used this challenge to talk to his children about electricity use and its effect on the planet. The family had a candlelit evening, with some homework being completed by candlelight. After putting the kids to sleep, he and his wife Annika enjoyed a glass of (still cold) wine and looked at the stars.

“we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and came back with greater affirmation that ‘green is better’ and ‘green is sexier’

Hayley chose to do the exercise away from home. She stayed on a farm in Citrusdal which was completely off the grid. The house was kitted out with solar for the lights and plugs for fan and laptops. The geyser, stove and fridge were all gas.

“We used to do a no electricity evening every so often, which forces you away from the TV and computer, build a fire in the back garden and watch the stars.  I think I’ll start that up again…”

I was thrown into the challenge involuntarily as our electricity went off around 9am one Sunday which is not uncommon for Observatory, with the black-out usually lasting the entire day.  Besides not being able to complete a DIY task and pancake making, we both enjoyed the day and were inspired to perhaps do it again. The challenge made me realise how dependent we all are on electricity and how many gadgets I have that rely on electricity.

“It’s really helped me see how precious electricity really is. Without gas stoves and battery backups, this school wouldn’t be able to function”.

Daniel, our clubs coordinator, was away in India at the time and was volunteering at a local school which only had electricity twice a day. Sometimes there would be no electricity at all which meant that the reserve batteries that normally power the lights couldn’t charge.

To wash in the mornings there was no shower or hot running water, so Daniel had two options. Either he could heat a bucket of water with an electric coil, or heat a pot of water on the gas stove. Then using a small jug, he could wash, using as little water as possible before the bucket ran out of hot water. During this time Daniel felt blessed to have showers in his comfortable house back home!

The 150 boarders in the school sleep in huge dormitories that regularly have no electricity. Instead they do self study in classrooms powered by batteries until 9pm! All the food was cooked on gas in huge pots to feed the teachers, staff and pupils.
Like many things in life: family, relationships, health, food, water, good weather, comfort, technological convenience, and energy, we rarely stop to appreciate, acknowledge, and be mindful of their beauty and aliveness these things give us, and mostly we are foolish enough to only realise how great they are when they’re gone”.

Stephen spends a lot of time hiking and climbing in remote mountain areas where for a length of time he is reliant on a stove for melting snow for water, or having to conserve food and ration cooking fuel, and be as energy and water efficient as possible. In these times he has been scared, hungry and thirsty.  On a recent trip he ran out of water while climbing in Du Toit’s kloof mountains, and was completely parched after a long day of physical activity, and with no water in the mountain at this time of year, he could actually smell the water that awaited him in the old coke bottle back at the car – he was so thirsty that his mind began playing tricks on him. But Stephen does not regard those times as periods of deprivation, but some of his greatest life-giving moments, where something simple as a mouthful of water can be the greatest thing you’ve ever experienced. And after a 3 hour walk down the mountain after a hot sweaty day, that plasticky tasting water tasted oh so sweet.

“Will depriving myself and my family of electricity for 24 hours make us value electricity more? Or will it just end with everyone feeling relieved it’s over when the mains go back on this evening?”

Brenda, as a mother of three, had quite a difficult task convincing her teenage sons that she was not having a crazy-mom moment!  After her family had completed the challenge, Brenda was left wondering what the point of the challenge really was. She agreed that it draws attention to how our lives are so dependent on electricity (even legally through insurance that falls away if one doesn’t have electric fencing or burglar alarms on), and how we have grown accustomed to flicking on a switch, and how we do things that require electricity more often than not. But other than that, is this just a little urban adventure in deprivation? Brenda saw electricity as a symptom of the underlying issue of unconscious consumerism.

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