You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

[DEC2021] As we close in on the shortest day of the year, the sun and the renewable energy it provides has been on my mind more than usual. Not that it’s ever too far from my awareness seeing as this place is not connected to the power grid and runs 99%+ on solar energy. This time of year with its short days, low sun and weak sunshine is challenging in contrast to the season of plenty spring-thru-early-autumn and some days I find myself counting watts like some dieters count calories LOL.

The particular attentiveness to energy from the sun began last month as I was writing up an article coming out soon in The Woodlander, the magazine of the Ontario Woodlot Association (OWA). The coming issue is on a theme of “Managing Our Woodlots for Climate Change”. Owners of private forests (of which Ontario has over 6 million hectares, including the majority of forests in southern Ontario, many of them held by private individuals) are already making a significant contribution to mitigating climate change simply by the continued existence of their woodland properties.

In my article I explore the utility of electric woodlot tools such as battery-powered chain saws, log splitters and such, with an emphasis on their use in order to reduce emissions and use of fossil fuel products. Not to mention the personal health benefits seeing as an exhaust-producing tool like a gas-powered saw is being used for hours within arm’s length. (Once The Woodlander is published I will see if I can get permission to post the article on my blog.)

Here at Off-Grid Retreat, my home space heating is fueled totally by firewood. Likewise for the Guest Cabin. And that firewood is truly carbon neutral here: the trees (mostly dead elm) are felled and cut up 100% with battery-powered chain-saws, and then split with an electric log-splitter, all powered by solar energy generated on-site. I even use “bio” vegetable-based chain-bar oil instead of petroleum-based for the health of my forest ecosystem, and myself. Firewood is burned in modern EPA-certified woodstoves which extract maximum heat through secondary burn systems, and minimize particulate in the smoke.

Last weekend I had airbnb guests who opted for the Off-Grid Site Tour add-on. It’s a 60-90 minute up-close walk-thru of how it all works, beginning outdoors with generation sources, then into the house to look at charging & power storage, and finally the power consumption end of things, including some unique appliances and tools. These particular guests were such a pleasure to show around… lots of great questions… and we ended up spending almost 2 hours at it.

The climate isn’t in a crisis, humans are.

Afterwards I was reflecting on all the strategies and tweaks I found myself telling them about, the various (and perhaps sometimes peculiar!) ways I minimize power use, make best use of the electricity available–both when it is plentiful and when it isn’t–and work with what nature provides me with rather than mindlessly pressing a button or flipping a switch at my whim. That and basically just “living small”, keeping my environmental footprint (and the needs that drive one’s footprint) on a reasonable scale.

Sometimes you don’t fully see where you’re at until you step away from it, and explaining these things to folks brought an insight that I’m doing more than perhaps I realized. I think because I’m continually looking for new ways to minimize footprint and to reduce consumption I might miss the significance of what is being done over what is still to be done. So that was a nice little smile.

BUT, not that it means I’m stopping looking for those additional ways and means. As David Suzuki said on a recent CBC Radio interview (I am paraphrasing)—the climate’s not in crisis, humans are; the earth and the climate will go with or without us. We all need to do our part and, living off-grid as I do, I can tell you that it is much more efficient (and immediate) to reduce consumption than to generate more to feed the consumption. That, figuratively and metaphorically, is perhaps one the keys to having some impact on climate change and the environmental damage we are causing.