How Much Does a Rabbit Consume?

How much can I consume while still being socially and ecologically responsible?

How little can I consume and maintain a high quality of life?

In many ways Dancing Rabbit is an experiment built around these questions. So far I believe we have made significant headway.

In the chart below you can find numbers comparing consumption for the average Rabbit to the average American and the results are interesting. We have managed to find a way to reduce our total footprint by 85% compared to the US average while retaining many comforts of modern life. For instance, I am writing this article in my 200 sq. ft. strawbale cabin, powered by a small solar panel system. I have a 200+ acre backyard I share with my friends and it’s a five minute walk to a luxuriously large natural swimming pool, our pond.

Dancing Rabbit has taken important steps towards demonstrating that a high quality of life is possible at much lower levels of consumption than are commonly seen in the Global Northwest. I like to think about this as an example of what economists call Pareto Optimality (or, for the statistically-minded, a power law distribution). This principle holds that 80% of your benefits come from the first 20% of your efforts. The Italian economist Pareto noticed this pattern in many areas of his life: 20% of his work would get 80% of his attention, 20% of his fellow Italians had 80% of the wealth, and 20% of his pea plants produced 80% of his peas.

In our case, I would argue that we get 80% of the fun and 80% of the utility out of modern life with about 15% of the consumption. This also leaves us room for other fine things in life that our more-consumptive counterparts might miss, like watching fireflies, going for a quick swim before dinner, or taking long walks with friends.

Thoughts and reflections on the data:

  • Much of our low electricity use comes from a day-to-day lived experience of finite production. If it is cloudy for two days I am likely to read a book instead of watching a movie, and if it is cloudy for four days I might enjoy a candlelight evening with my sweetheart instead of using electric lighting. It is a very visceral and informative experience to live within limits, with real hour-to-hour feedback. I look forward to smart metering options providing the wider public with information like this in the near future.
  • Flying is a huge cost, and while many Rabbits avoid flying (some entirely), airplane usage still looms large in our estimated total village footprint.
  • We Rabbits still use more than our global share of the earth’s ecosystem, so, in my view, discussions of consumption targets should be paired with discussions of socially conscious ways to hit population targets.
  • As our internal village economy matures, we will publish a followup article on production. This will be a step towards judging our progress in attaining production levels that can support our lower levels of consumption in a sustainable way.

If you have any questions or comments or are interested in our

sources, leave a comment below!

8 thoughts on “How Much Does a Rabbit Consume?

  1. Great post – DR is doing an incredible job demonstrating that one can live a happy, healthy, productive lifestyle with only a fraction of the ecological impact of the US average. I had the opportunity today to share some of these successes with a group that included folks who write for Harper’s, New York Times, Grist, Good!, and other publications.

    One comment about the numbers – the categories listed are cherry-picked a little bit, by which I mean to say, there are categories for “electricity” and “propane” (where DR uses far less than the national average, only 3% in the case of propane) but no category for “firewood”. I would guess that DR, which relies primarily upon wood heat, probably uses far more than the national average of firewood. This is interesting for two reasons:

    1) Firewood has very different (and I would argue smaller) impacts than fossil fuels – but then again, it might not be a sustainable solution for North America to heat with wood. So to be fair about DR’s example and impact, firewood should be included; heat at DR comes from somewhere.

    2) These statistics say some things about how much energy is consumed overall, but do not say much specifically about how buildings at DR are constructed and used in a more efficient manner, unless presented in a way where they can be directly compared against other buildings. The “carbon footprint” line takes into account the fact that the electricity used at DR has a much smaller footprint than grid electricity, on average; however, DR buildings could start using twice as much electricity per occupant or per square foot and while the carbon footprint would change only slightly since it’s renewable energy, it would nevertheless say a lot about lifestyle choices and building efficiency.

    The standard way to report these numbers would be to convert all numbers to a common energy measurement and then scale them (ideally, after weather normalization, but that’s optional) to the size or number of users of the space. This EUI (energy utilization index) is generally reported in kBTU/sqft/year in the US since that gives easy to remember numbers in the 10-300 range.

    This approach could help DR distinguish between victories that are hard to replicate (not everyone will go offgrid anytime soon, nor is it certain that distributed generation is necessary for sustainability) and ones that are broad clarion calls for action (demonstrating buildings that have low EUIs, that anyone can strive for based upon things like insulation, efficient appliances, and careful energy use, regardless of the prime source of the energy used).

    Congrats again to DR for leading the way!

  2. Thanks for the interesting chart and article. Although Claire and I live a modest life, we are probably closer to the averge than I would wish.

  3. Thanks, Cecil, for good to-the-minute info about how to evaluate progress and translate it to common reference points. Sometimes at DR (especially the past couple years) it feels hard to keep up and post about what we’re actually doing here… we’ve just rekindled the eco-progress committee, with renewed commitment to research and evaluation of what we’re doing. I’d like to see more information on firewood consumption here, and equivalents to wider cultural norms (both type of fuel and consumption level).

    peace all,
    ted

  4. Great article Brian! I’ve been thinking about a lot of similar things lately. In the mainstream people can make some difference with minimal lifestyle changes, but I think it will take drastic changes, like those you’ve shown in your stats about DR to prevent disaster. It’s hard to convey what we are doing here to people “out there”and the depth of the difference one can make through simple or difficult adjustments to lifestyle. I would like to do this more often (through the March Hare), not just to bring awareness about the possibilities to others, but to help us here at DR to find more meaning in the way we live because we are constantly aware of the difference we are making. Here at DR, we have “institutionalized”, for lack of a better word, major practices in sustainability so that just by living here one reduces their impact. Outside of DR it’s so easy to get sucked into the car culture, the grid (electrical, water, fuel), and consumptive ways. When these unsustainable luxuries are in your face, it’s much harder to break the habit.

    Cecil, you make some good points. If everyone in this country used wood for heating, you wouldn’t see any tree lined streets. Many Third World countries are deforesting their lands just to provide cooking fuel. But having such small, well insulated houses like we do here, we probably use a lot less wood than the energy equivalent of fossil fuel. I have a passive solar house, which reduces energy consumption for heating drastically, but I do see what seems to me a lot of wood being burned here in some houses during the winter months.

  5. Followup: an even better way to measure home energy consumption would be using the standard home energy rating system found at http://www.resnet.us/home-energy-ratings

    It would also be interesting to do things per-person, rather than per-square-foot, as the small footprint of most DR housing is a crucial part of the overall small ecological footprint.

    Thanks to Jacob Corvidae for the discussion that elicited these thoughts!

  6. I am wondering if DR strives to lower energy consumption by eating more raw foods — thus eliminating cooking and canning and refrigeration?

    We are soon moving off-grid, and one of the ways we plan to cut our energy needs (supplied by one solar panel), is by eliminating refrigeration and cooking, thus living off of homegrown fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, goat milk, etc.

    Also, along somewhat different lines, how do you deal with government regulations? Living in Northern California, the good ole boys here insist on the installation of septic tanks and drainage fields. It is such a waste of time, money, energy and resources to install this! Also, building permits are needed for anything larger than a 10 x 12 structure. They also require a well on the property, although we have a natural spring on the adjoining property, with permission for access.

    We have been discretely building 10 x 12 “hobbit houses” built into the hillside, composting and recycling gray water, and using rain catchment. Technically, the health dept could bust us for living there, but we’re moving in and keeping a low profile, and hopefully no one will even know we are there.

    Anyway, we are very curious as to how you satisfy local regulations — and still reduce your carbon footprint? It seems like there are so many out there who want everything “by the book”, even though it makes no sense at all.

    • Building and zoning codes are definitely an issue for many who want to live more sustainably. I guess though we are trying to provide a model, many of our methods are not applicable in other parts of the country because of these outdated regulations that dictate every little aspect of peoples lives without them even knowing it. We do not have any local building codes, so we have few restrictions and are able to experiment with new ideas. This is part of the reason we chose to build our village here. Businesses or buildings that serve the public here do have to follow more stringent regulations though.

      As far as raw foods, everyone here chooses their own diet. I think a raw diet has the potential to be more sustainable. I often wonder how people are able to maintain a sustainable raw diet, given that food is perishable and seasonal if it is sustainably grown. In the city, it is easy to maintain such a diet because you can always buy fresh food, but it is grown and shipped across the world, so anything is available fresh at any time. Of course, much of the nutritional value is lost in the shipping and the breeding that designs vegetables for transworld travel. I have found that though a raw foods diet may be better for you, unless you can get the food from your area, it can be a really energy intensive diet (because refrigeration is required to keep it fresh). I once knew raw foodists who would regularly eat coconuts, durian, almonds, and jarred raw olives from across the world ordered through the internet. I’m not sure how you will be able to have fresh raw food available year round, though it is easier in Northern CA. Where we are, we have to find ways to preserve food because there is a shorter growing period. Sometimes preservation methods that involve cooking can be useful in preserving the local harvest, other methods preserve the raw state of foods. Many vegetables can be stored for winter naturally in root cellars or under mulch outdoors. I grow food in a hoop house over winter so that we can have fresh salads year round. Some people cook exclusively with wood, and others cook on the wood stoves they use to heat their house in winter. There are also ways of preserving that don’t involve using fuel, like pickling, fermenting, cheesemaking, etc. These can be raw foods as well. If you read the other blog post I wrote on preserving food, it addresses some of the issues you are talking about. There are so many dilemmas, but we have to figure out what is most sustainable for our situation.

  7. Dan,

    I just wanted to let you know that for a couple of years now, I have been including some of your blog in public talks I give about sustainable well-being. Even more specifically, your blog inspired what I now call the “Cocaine-Firefly Principle” which I sometimes go into as a tangent in my talks. Anyway, I thought you’d appreciate knowing that your words are getting out there in this small way. I finally wrote up the “Cocaine-Firefly Principle” at this link, for your interest: http://www.sustainablewellbeing.us/2013/02/cocaine-firefly-tangent/

    By the way, we visited DR last April of 2012 (unfortunately not firefly season) and really appreciate the pioneering work you and the other Rabbits are doing. Thank you also for sharing that work on this and other posts!

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