Walking the Talk – Response to Global Warming

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 43, Advent 2007

Anne Rampa

We have ten solar panels that feed into the mains, and a solar hot water with no electrical backup. We try and keep our consumption below our production. To do this Jim, my husband, tested all our appliances and got rid of the energy guzzlers: the electric kettle, fry pan, heaters, large fridge. We have a small bar fridge, covered in rubber for extra insulation – not hard to manage with a vegetarian diet and powdered milk. We hardly ever iron clothes – folding them or hanging them on hangers when wet, and keeping to clothes made from low crush fabrics does a good enough job.

We have seven children, and usually a visitor or two, so it is a largish household. We cook on a wood burning stove (not ideal – but a start) and use a gas bottle with a camp cooker to heat water during the day. If we have a few cloudy days and no hot water, heating water on the wood stove has an ambiance that’s got its attraction. Water is an issue here – we only have tank water, and Australia is becoming dryer – so having to heat water for bathing is great for cutting consumption. Our two eldest are 16 and 14-year-old girls. They go to local Catholic schools, and controlling their use of hair straighteners, irons and water takes effort and discipline. But they both have been given leadership positions at school and have good friends, so the impact of the counter-cultural lifestyle hasn’t meant ostracism for them – something which parents worry about.

Jim has been collecting used cooking oil each week from a number of Brisbane fish and chip shops and takeaway bars for about five years and turns it into Biodiesel as fuel for the car. It costs around 20c a litre to make and is much better for the environment than petroleum fuel.

We use a laptop computer most of the time, and have energy efficient light bulbs. After seeing Al Gore’s film our seven-year-old, Benedict, runs around the house turning off lights with the cry, ‘save the polar bears!’ It’s handy having an enthusiastic vigilante. We don’t have a television – but use the computer for DVD’s if we want.

Many Australians have started installing air conditioners – mainly to cope with the heat. We have a 100-year-old house, built to maximize cooling air – design is important in trying to be comfortable but energy-saving. Insulation makes a lot of difference, and having trees around the house, but, on a really hot day, we squirt each other with water spray bottles.

We have been experimenting with making gas from cow manure – largely unsuccessfully- so if there is anyone who knows about this, we’d love to hear from them!

I can honestly say I don’t think our lifestyle is a hard one – we are really comfortable. Of course, it helps being mindful of how the majority of the worlds’ population lives!

Anne Rampa, Jim Dowling and their seven children live at Peter Maurin Catholic Worker Farm outside Brisbane, and may be contacted on penangke@octa4.net.au

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