Frugality as the new generosity


Wow it’s been so cold this weekend. These ferns haven’t been burnt by bushfires they’ve been burnt by frost.


On Saturday the temperature dropped to -3C and even though the children were in tears playing soccer in the cold in Lithgow (I reckon the wind chill factor must have been -10C), I reminded myself that we’re still luckier than the 70 children in Peru, all under 5, who’ve died of pneumonia and respiratory illnesses in the last three months. The temperature there has dropped as low as -20C and even low-lying jungle regions are facing unusually cold weather, with temperatures dropping to 10C.


Within hours of soccer my boys came home and had raging temperatures. Fortunately they’ve been able to spend the day tucked up in a warm house and tonight are feeling noticeably better. I can’t begin to imagine what -20C without proper heating and warm clothes would be like. Meanwhile in Australia our cold snap has even bleached the coral reefs … something I never knew could happen.

But back to some good news!

The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed a Democratic rewrite of U.S. energy policy that strips $16 billion in tax incentives away from Big Oil and puts it toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. According to Reuters, the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act and the related tax title would spur a massive redistribution of federal incentives to wind, solar, geothermal and away from producing energy from oil, natural gas and coal.

“It’s an historic turn away from a fossil fuel agenda and toward a

renewable energy agenda for America,” said Rep. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. “It has been a long time coming.”

The bill sets new standards for appliances and building efficiency codes, and spurs possible renegotiation of faulty Gulf of Mexico drilling leases signed by the Clinton administration that left about $2 billion on the table.

The House voted 220-190 to add a controversial amendment that would require U.S. utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020. Utilities in Southeast and Midwest states that lack wind currents needed to justify new wind turbines would have to pay billions of dollars in penalties to comply with the rules.

Mind you this is still not a fait accompli. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill because of concerns that it could boost energy prices and because it does nothing to encourage increased domestic production of oil and gas.

The even worse news is that, as the White House argues over higher prices, some of the worst floods in living memory are ravaging South Asia. According to Reuters, more than 35 million people have been affected by the floods in South Asia, including much of Bangladesh. 250 people have died over the past 11 days, and about 10 million are homeless or cut off in their villages, with little or no access to food and health care. 10 MILLION!!!!! That’s more than the whole population of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth combined. All of them with little or no access to food and health care.

Floods, cold snaps … all extreme weather events caused by the warming of the globe.

Knowing what I now know, I feel really ashamed to admit that it’s only been in this last 18 months that my thinking has shifted on what it really means to be selfish. Until recently there was a part of me that viewed being stingy and miserly and frugal as being selfish, and only caring about making as much money for yourself as you could. I deliberately left all the lights on because I thought quality of life was more important than stockpiling money! I thought being extravagant was being generous and kind. Now I view frugality as the new generosity! The more frugally we can live our lives, the more generous we are to future generations and to people whose lives are already being destroyed by climate change and poverty. Somehow I’d forgotten the poster I had on my wall as a teenager: Live simply that others may simply live.

So, having a long way to go, I continue to take daily actions to retrain my behaviour and to remodel my existence into one that has more respect for all the others sharing this tiny planet of ours.

In the last 4 days my new personal actions have been:

1. To swap our main phone over from a cord free electrical one to an “old fashioned” fixed phone that will work, even through blackouts. This is less convenient now but doesn’t burn electricity 24 hours a day, won’t keep being misplaced and won’t keep going flat in the middle of a conversation.

2. To fill old plastic drink bottles with water to become freezer blocks for trips away, rather than throwing them into landfill.

3. To start using bicarbonate of soda for cleaning.

4. To stop drinking alcohol – I’ve slipped this one in last even though it’s a HUGE decision on my part. HUGE BEYOND HUGE. DRAMATICALLY HUGE, ALMOST INCONCEIVABLY HUGE, NIGHTMARISHLY HUGE …. GULP …. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, but the combination of feeling ill when I see all the bottles we go through and the need to stay healthy for the boys, is enough to motivate me to try. A few months ago we made some home brew but we haven’t kept it up and it’s so easy to slip back into convenience … then wonder why you can’t shake the flu a month later. With a bit of luck staying off “the bottles” will translate into better health too …. and more frugality.

Politically I’ve attended another planning meeting for the Environment Summit to be held in Katoomba on the 13th/14th October and then contacted Mark Diesendorf to be the keynote speaker – thrilled tonight to have him accept. He’s just published a new book called “Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy” (May 2007) and knows more about the possibilities and practicalities of renewable energy than anyone else I’ve come across.


I’ve had another meeting at the Golf Course about strategies for “Greening” the Club and about starting our film screenings with every Climate Action Meeting on the 2nd Sunday of the month at the Club. Next Sunday we’ll be screening David Bradbury’s “A Hard Rain” after the meeting (starting at 6pm). I’ve also made videos of the East Timor Garage Sale in Leura, the performance of The Lorax at Blackheath Public School and our Community Markets today. Hopefully these will be up on the Web soon.

I also spent some time reading and commenting on The Big Switch website.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a great new site called Home Page Daily where I found out about a new movie called Zeitgeist.

By the way, if you enjoy reading these blogs, why not subscribe so you can be notified whenever we post new blogs – we’d love to get to 365 subscribers to prove that at least 365 people believe that we need the action of A Year In A Day and are keen to be reminded that the solutions are both personal and political. Add any actions that you’re doing into our comments section – you may inspire someone else to do the same.

4 thoughts on “Frugality as the new generosity

  1. Frances

    Speaking of the cold…my mother is currrently knitting for the children of Tibet and Mongolia in an organised relief program.

    If anyone has spare wool around it would be most welcome.

  2. Paul Payten

    I can empathise wiht Liz and her ‘giving up to gain’ approach, particularly relating to the intake of alcohol. Basically, we can all do with less of most that we use and it does bring back memories of my childhood and my Dad with his way of resuing bent nails, preloved timber and ti to build a great shed which stood for ages. His putting a blanket around his legs to avoid turning on an heater and many other actiosn that would have been oh so current today.
    I am concerned about giving up on joy though and this we need in tonnes so that we can lighten the load of those around us and keep our own inner firnes burning – that is a sustainable form of heating after all. For my part, a glass or of local red wine does wonders for the body mind and spirit and with more and more local wine coming to market, it is time to revisit the demijon or keg so that we can pick up a week’s worth and decant rather than buying the small bottles.
    I recall on a cray fishing boat of WA some 28 yrs ago, with an Italian captain and crew, apart from me, trading a 10 gallon plastic keg of home made vino rosso for a couple of tins of cooking oil. We traded with another boat while 10 miles off the coast using several ropes strung between as as we steamed between rows of pots. Good fun and both crews benefited.
    Bring on Cittaslow I say and all that it means so that we can grant ourselves a glass of good spirit as a reward for all the other things we are not having.
    Visit and see who to get involved.

  3. Lis

    Ah Paul – the idea of the demijon or keg is very very tempting! A number of the problems solved in one fell swoop.
    One of the interesting things that I’ve discovered in the last few months, as I’ve taken an action a day, is that each action is leading, oddly enough, to an improvement in my life and increased happiness. People who cynically refuse to act, or change their lives, write off the people who do as “hairshirts” – little do they know what they’re missing out on. I’m actually greatly enjoying my new frugality … and saving money to boot, which comes in handy when you’re running around doing unpaid work. I’m not sure how long I’ll last without alcohol, although I did do it when I was pregnant with the boys. I guess sometimes, when you’re an older parent of very young children like I am, you do occasionally get concerned that you need to be particularly mindful of your health too – especially as the world we’re moving into is so much less benign than the one I grew up in. I’d like to be around for my kids as long as possible. I suspect that I’ll eventually slide into some sort of compromise with the occasional drink and longer breaks in between… especially if I could get hold of a keg of vino rosso and do away with the problem of all those bottles! Abstinence might also drive me back to making the effort with homebrew.

  4. susan

    I agree we should never describe let alone think that living more sustainably is living ‘hair shirt’ Lis. If the average Australian Ecological footprint of waste, embodied energg in appliance and food etc -is around 6 hectares for each of us to live a so called normal life style; when there is only 1.5 hectares of the planets land mass available for use per person (when we know the current world population is still expanding and meanwhile the amount of arible land is decreasing thru desseritifcation, salination , pollution wars etc). And that’s not counting any footprint for the animals.
    God we are ripping off some one severely, let alone the planet
    It’s obvious that we should

    Not sure I can take the step of going without the odd glass of wine though.

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