It’s time for my 2020 Family Footprint Review. December is always a good time for reflection so it’s time to look back on how we went with our family footprint project in the weird year that was 2020.
2020 – What a Year!
2020 started covered in smoke. The Australian bushfire season of 2019/20 was devastating, and it was also devastating for my mental health.
I’ve decided to talk openly about my experience with depression because I don’t think it helps anyone for mental health issues to be a taboo subject anymore. Anxiety about the environment and depression resulting from the feeling of helplessness in the face of the extraordinary task ahead of the global community is common and on the rise, particularly for those already at risk of mental ill-health. By speaking about my experience, I hope I can help others.
I have struggled with, usually mild, depression on and off for most of my adult life. At the beginning of 2020, it became quite severe as a consequence of the events in Australia and around the world. To cut a long story short, my doctor prescribed anti-depressants for the first time. They have made all the difference. They have not removed my concern about the environment, of course, but I am able to be constructive and continue with my imperfect action in our own family footprint project.
My reason for mentioning this is to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on mental health and, maybe, someone reading this might seek help, like I did, if they are really not coping. The impacts are real, not imagined, and help is available.
You are also not alone.
One of the things I have done this year is to start to build a community of people around me who are also concerned about the environment and want to support each other. Of course, that was hampered by COVID-19 but we’re coming through that now. (I’m touching wood as I write that). Seek out support if you too feel this would help.
So, yes, 2020 has been a tough year. Fires, smoke, hail, COVID-19, world political schisms. It has been difficult to watch.
Our Family Footprint Project in 2020
If you have experienced depression either first-hand or as a loved one, you’ll know that it often makes ‘doing things’ difficult. I experience fatigue and an inability to bring myself to do much beyond the essentials, so the first three months of 2020 were hard. As my mental health improved, COVID lockdown came into effect and there was a lot of fear and confusion about how best to stay safe and, consequently, changes to routines.
So, now, I’ve got the excuses (let’s call them explanations for a more positive spin!) out of the way, let me review our family footprint project for 2020 against our goals.
This was our big win. We finally installed our 10kw solar array in May. We’ve delighted in looking at our generation graph ever since, pleasantly surprised by even the winter efficiency. While solar was a huge investment, it has also been a huge and exciting step in reducing our footprint. Timely too with the move to working and learning from home.
We also delighted in having our gas disconnected on installation of an electric heating and cooling system. The only thing still using gas in our house now is the barbecue which is on bottled gas. Obviously the air conditioning doesn’t only use solar power, particularly in the winter when the heating is required to heat the house before we get up and through the evening. We have tried to adjust how we manage heating, however, to maximise solar draw by turning the heating back on earlier in the afternoon to bring the house back up to comfortable temperature (a balmy 18°C) while the panels are still generating.
Having lived without cooling, other than ceiling fans, forever, I don’t know what our air conditioner use will be like during the summer. Cooling has become increasingly necessary with our hotter summers and, it seems, that the cooler evening air doesn’t move through as much as it once did to cool the house down for sleep. I am determined, however, that we will use the air conditioning sparingly and with a view to maximising the draw from solar rather than the grid.
Along with solar, we changed some of our habits to use more of the energy we generated. We now put the dishwasher on after breakfast, rather than after dinner. We do our clothes washing during daylight hours. With daylight saving, it has also been easier to prepare dinner while the sun is still shining.
In addition to these habits, we also purchased an electric lawnmower. This made complete sense as who mows at night? We needed a new mower as the old petrol one would no longer be coaxed to start with my husband’s attentions.
We didn’t, however, manage to address other energy uses habits such as ensuring the young people turn off lights and fans when leaving a room. Stand-by power is still something to look at. I’ll need to invest in some of those remote switches but haven’t researched what to buy.
I would love to see the whole family engaging in more “off-grid” activities too. I expect, however, that this will be an uphill battle. Screen-based activities are here to stay and even reading and drawing are increasingly digital.
The plans we made to buy an electric bike and use more public transport really fell through as a result of COVID. With my husband working from home, the need for the electric bike for commuting dissolved. Catching public transport was also not appealing. Car use declined as a result of being home-based but, now that things have returned to some sort of normal, it is being used as much as ever. The family footprint lens needs to be refocused on this.
From a food-miles perspective, we continue to shop at our farmer’s market as much as possible but I can’t say we’ve done anything to further to reduce our food miles other than changing the dog’s food to an Australian-made brand. That came, initially, at the cost of her health it turned out! We bought what we were told was a premium Australian brand to replace the vet recommended, but American-made, Science Diet. It caused serious gastro-intestinal irritation which, thankfully, was quickly remedied by changing back to Science Diet. The vet, however, empathised with our desire to feed her an Australian-made brand and said that people with allergy prone dogs were having success with Ivory Coat. We gradually moved her over to this brand and she has been thriving on it.
All up, progress on the soft plastics front in 2020 has been a fail. Initially, COVID meant that plastic-free produce even disappeared from the farmer’s market. Things have improved again now but I haven’t returned to using my bread collection bag as yet.
The amount of snack food wrappers have not decreased either. I’ve found it hard to dissuade teenagers with their own money not to buy junk food!
All in all, this is an area that needs renewed energy and focus.
Aside from these areas that I particularly targeted in my 2020 goals, there were other changes around the house. A big one was getting our lovely ladies, our chooks, in April. I changed to face cleanser and scrub bars from Ethique and found a natural deodorant in a cardboard tube that my husband loves from Two Winged Fruit. I also achieved yoghurt making success. Small changes but all steps on the road to lowering our carbon footprint.
When I look back, it is rewarding to see the changes we’ve made. I looked in my travel toiletries bag recently and realised that it contained a natural deodorant paste and face moisturiser in a glass jar, a bamboo toothbrush, and bars for face, hair and body washing. Just in that small space, I can see our progress and I feel pride in our progress.
Looking at our progress during my 2020 Family Footprint Review, I know there is always more we can do but I think it is good to take a moment to appreciate the positive changes already made. Action, for me, is the antidote for anxiety. There is much to do, both at home and across the globe, but I’m entering 2021 feeling energised. After the year we’ve had, that feels wonderful on so many levels!
I’d love to hear how your year has been. Have you done a review of your 2020 family footprint project? I’d love to hear about the changes you’ve made to lower your carbon footprint. Tell me what you’d like to hear more about on the blog in 2021. How can I help you meet your sustainable living goals and to feel connected and empowered in this changing world? Email me. We’re all in this together.