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Josh Spodek claiming to use .37 Earths'-worth of energy while living in Manhattan apartment

 
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https://joshuaspodek.com/

This dude seems really committed.  And motivated.  And able to motivate other people to make deep cut changes.

I haven't checked his claims.  I have questions.  Home heating?  hot water?  It's a little hard to tell from the website and a search for related search terms didn't turn up relevant answers.  I wrote him an email asking about his heating source.  Much of Manhattan is on "district heating" (waste heat from the power plants), is my understanding, and if you're on a middle floor you're getting a lot of heat from above and below you.  

Maybe there's other stuff I'm missing.

Discussion?
 
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I can't speak to his claims directly, but my first thought was to the massive embodied energy that is entombed in the infrastructure of the place where he lives, and which makes his lifestyle possible. What about the transportation network that supports it? If he benefits from it, he has to own his fair share. He might not like the resulting math.

This parallels the "energy reports" I get from my utility company. Apparently I use much more than the average, and the efficient, household. All the energy sources are blended together in a feel good / feel bad way with no metrics so they are useless forensically. I firmly suspect this is "dumb bot" territory, comparing urban households with rural ones. Do they pump their own water, pump their own sewer, provide their own streetlighting, run a block heater of a tractor for snow clearing, etc. etc.? Those things are hidden in their other utility bills. If they did everything that I have to do, would they still get a "happy face" from the dumb bot? My bills at least are a full and direct accounting.
 
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He seems to be really short on the specifics I am interested in. I am really curious as to what his day job is.
 
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While I have not gone to that website, it sounds like he disconnected from electricity in his apartment and uses solar as many folks who live off-grid do.

I think this is a great idea, especially for folks wanting to find a place somewhere to live off-grid. Why wait when folks can do this in their current location?
 
John F Dean
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I certainly give him an A for the effort. I would like to know all the factors he considered to arrive at the figure he has.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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What I found interesting was his way of motivating himself and others to adopt new habit. He runs up 6 flights each day to charge a small solar panel for his stuff (instant pot, computer). It’s not exactly sacrifice, it’s more like exercise, which some people really get into enthusiastically.

I am still thinking of the big ticket items—heat and hot water. Hot water is still a big part of my energy audit crimes. Heat too, my rmh is loads better than oil, but it needs to be fine-tuned.  
 
Anne Miller
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I don't have any idea what he does for hot water though maybe he takes cold showers.  What do other folks off-grid do for hot water?

There are a lot of folks in Manhattan who have no heat so maybe he does the same thing ... bundle up and wear lots of layers?

I also imagine that there is a lot of mass around his apartment holding in heat from the other apartments.

As John said, I would give him an A, too.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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He coaches people, some pay big bucks and some he does for free, according to the article.  He focuses on coaching people who know they need to make big changes but don't know how yet.  I think there's a piece about helping people tap into their inner motivation/values.  He had worked as a dating coach and writes articles as well.  

When I said it's gotten into the New Yorker, I should add a nuance to that, it's in one of those tongue-in-cheek snarky toned articles that sort of puts the "alarmist" or "weirdo" up on a pedestal but to parade them as a clown.  As i read it anyway.  But it is at least some press and I think everyone senses they can't just screen out consequences anymore.  It's some progress.  

And being in the city allows someone to reach an audience.

He did write back to me.  I'd asked if he'd read the Better World Book but he didn't answer that question, I think he was wanting more context for why I just showed up and started asking questions.  I figure it's a serious situation and he seems not hung up on manners so I just got to the point.  In 100 years history will not regret that I was too nosy.  

John F Dean wrote:He seems to be really short on the specifics I am interested in. I am really curious as to what his day job is.

 
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:I can't speak to his claims directly, but my first thought was to the massive embodied energy that is entombed in the infrastructure of the place where he lives, and which makes his lifestyle possible. What about the transportation network that supports it? If he benefits from it, he has to own his fair share. He might not like the resulting math.

This parallels the "energy reports" I get from my utility company. Apparently I use much more than the average, and the efficient, household. All the energy sources are blended together in a feel good / feel bad way with no metrics so they are useless forensically. I firmly suspect this is "dumb bot" territory, comparing urban households with rural ones. Do they pump their own water, pump their own sewer, provide their own streetlighting, run a block heater of a tractor for snow clearing, etc. etc.? Those things are hidden in their other utility bills. If they did everything that I have to do, would they still get a "happy face" from the dumb bot? My bills at least are a full and direct accounting.



It is easy to "externalize" a lot of "costs" when things are done for you, or on your behalf. The water is pumped and waiting for you to open a tap, the train will arrive even if today you aren't getting on it, the electricity is on the grid just in case you flip a light switch. The streets are cleared of snow, even if you have no car the groceries you buy still get to your local store that way... on and on...
Urban life also has some great efficiencies, district heating already mentioned, the warmth held in an apartment tower versus a stand alone home, a truckload of food/products/whatever to one place, rather than less than a load to a rural location, and a <15 minute drive for groceries rather than >30 miles to "go in to town" for supplies.
 
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Okay, I looked at the website but didn't take up the links. I say--I give him a pass on the embodied footprint of the city because it's already THERE--and urban transportation is much more efficient, plus he can likely walk to most places. But the big thing that seems to be left out--can't believe nobody here has mentioned this--what does he EAT? Food is the most basic of needs and you can't grow more than a tiny percentage in Manhattan. So he depends on a constant stream of diesel trucks entering Manhattan delivering food and other things.  Is that calculated in his considerations? Probably only as compared to to a suburbanite who also depends on a grocery store. This is one of the reasons I advocate growing some of your own food for sustainability/ecological reasons (among others). Because if you don't someone else is growing it and probably not in as sustainable a manner as you would, plus there's all the packaging and transport. I find it amazing how people overlook this. Like I read a novel in which an EMP pulse knocks out power and machinery and thus civilization in the US for a year. It's set in a small town near Asheville, NC. About six months go by before the people running things think to make an arrangement with the local farmers of trading food for labor. Also, everyone is filthy and stinks because they don't have running hot water. Like they couldn't heat water over a wood fire? Or even bathe in cold water if it came to that?
 
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The terms "unplug" or "off grid" always make me chuckle, but we all understand and supprot the idea trying to be conveyed.
 
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It's probably not possible to totally and accurately account for all the "carbon emissions" that occur from ANY activity. Reminds me of the old joke about hiring an accountant, where the CEO set up a mock set of data and asked the three finalists what the cost per unit was.
The first confidently laid out a spreadsheet and said, "It costs $6.32 per unit."
The second confidently laid out HIS spreadsheet and said, "It costs $38.71 per unit."
The third came in and said, "How much would you LIKE it to cost?" and got the job.
I fear that most "carbon accountants" are the third type.

The absolute worst I am aware of is the highly emotional discussion about agriculture and especially cows. Ridiculous statements like "cows emit more greenhouse gas than transportation."

My take is that we need to separate NEW carbon emissions (mainly fossil fuels) from RECYCLED emissions. Our gardens and livestock make NO new carbon, they just recycle. Every carbon atom that a cow emits, or that builds a stalk or leaf in our Permie forests, came from CO2 that was already in the air, taken up by the grass, and turned into cow or human food. So, NO net increase in greenhouse gas.  Cows are not alchemists! (by the way they ALSO don't destroy water, another weird myth.)  And the methane that they emit, supposedly a worse greenhouse gas, would ALSO be emitted from the grass that ferments and breaks down in the field if the cows don't eat it, AND methane breaks down in the atmosphere anyway with a half life of about 10 years. Now our agricultural "system" does use a lot of fossil fuels to make nitrogen fertilizer and to transport things from California to Montana but industrial plant AND animal agriculture are equally culpable here.

I'm proud of what I do with my larval Permaculture efforts despite the fact that my compost heaps certainly emit CO2 and methane, but no "neocarbon".
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Jim Small wrote:It's probably not possible to totally and accurately account for all the "carbon emissions" that occur from ANY activity. Reminds me of the old joke about hiring an accountant, where the CEO set up a mock set of data and asked the three finalists what the cost per unit was.
The first confidently laid out a spreadsheet and said, "It costs $6.32 per unit."
The second confidently laid out HIS spreadsheet and said, "It costs $38.71 per unit."
The third came in and said, "How much would you LIKE it to cost?" and got the job.
I fear that most "carbon accountants" are the third type.

The absolute worst I am aware of is the highly emotional discussion about agriculture and especially cows. Ridiculous statements like "cows emit more greenhouse gas than transportation."

My take is that we need to separate NEW carbon emissions (mainly fossil fuels) from RECYCLED emissions. Our gardens and livestock make NO new carbon, they just recycle. Every carbon atom that a cow emits, or that builds a stalk or leaf in our Permie forests, came from CO2 that was already in the air, taken up by the grass, and turned into cow or human food. So, NO net increase in greenhouse gas.  Cows are not alchemists! (by the way they ALSO don't destroy water, another weird myth.)  And the methane that they emit, supposedly a worse greenhouse gas, would ALSO be emitted from the grass that ferments and breaks down in the field if the cows don't eat it, AND methane breaks down in the atmosphere anyway with a half life of about 10 years. Now our agricultural "system" does use a lot of fossil fuels to make nitrogen fertilizer and to transport things from California to Montana but industrial plant AND animal agriculture are equally culpable here.

I'm proud of what I do with my larval Permaculture efforts despite the fact that my compost heaps certainly emit CO2 and methane, but no "neocarbon".



There's a LOT of difference between industrial beef/Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations feeding ammonia fertilized corn (petroleum input here...), and grass-fed, rotationally-grazed cattle, of the Greg Judy, Ian Mitchell-Innes, Joel Salatin sort. One relies on inputs, while the other is "recycling".
"Destroying water" is more likely to refer to "polluting the water" with the sorts of concentrated runoff that occurs at the CAFOs, which is due to their intense practices, not the cows. It may USE more water to create calories from cows than for chicken, or lettuce, or apples... which is another issue.
The grass isn't creating methane without the cows, since it's not in a "digester" or a cow, it's not even in a compost heap, it's just decaying naturally.

     'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.' -Mark Twain
The accounting can be made to prove or disprove almost any position. Yeah, "How much would you LIKE it to cost?" is right.
 
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Even if this guy lives in his NYC apartment in the dark & without heat, he's still probably neglecting a lot of external factors.  It's impossible for him to live there without both water service & sewage transport & processing.  New York City is unique in the fact that every building taller than, IIRC 7 stories is required to have it's own water storage system & it's own water pumps for higher floors; and residents cannot be charged for this directly.  Also, practically every city has pumping and processing facilities for sewage and other wastewater that he definitely makes use of, but isn't considering in his data.

Granted, adding in the energy required for water treatment, transportation, and sewage treatment isn't going to blow up his conclusions alone; but I suspect that he's neglecting a lot of other factors as well.  Let's take the no-heat in winter option at a glance; because these people are living in apartments that have other apartments on at least 2 sides (and a floor, probably also his roof) these people who live without heat are still getting some heat from their neighbors.  It's a form of freeloading, since part of the advantage of an apartment is that your space's exposure to the cold is limited by your neighbors' heated spaces.
 
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“You’ll own nothing and be happy about it”
Maybe Im just the fly in the happy sauce. But it seems like those who keep telling me to live smaller and use less, are the same ones with mansions and yachts and private planes. All that pour tonnes more CO2 into the air than my pickup. Or use more water and resources than my
little homestead.
This topic inspired me to write a blog piece tonight.

https://lakearielhomestead.com/my-blog/f/climates-change

Thanks for the inspiration!
 
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James Shaffer wrote:But it seems like those who keep telling me to live smaller and use less, are the same ones with mansions and yachts and private planes.

I'm not so sure of that? Wealthy business owners rely on people to keep buying their goods to keep them in business.

Look at "fast fashion" - created by someone because it meant that women kept going in his store, buying an outfit, and then 3 months later tossing it in the garbage because it was "out of style", and buying a different one. I live small (but not extreme like Josh Spodek), because then I not only don't give money to businesses I feel don't meet my standards, but I also don't pay sales tax on things I don't buy.

By owning a smaller, not fancy home, we also pay less property tax. I stayed home to with our children so we didn't buy more expensive dinners out or pre-made food because I cooked from scratch. Thus all the middle men/food companies who make money selling food I didn't want my children eating anyway, did not get any money from me.

We owned our cars for 15-20 years and only bought a pickup when we needed to pull a heavy trailer that was beyond the tow rating of our smaller car. Think of all the money we didn't pay to the big oil executives or the car manufacturers.

Maybe it depends on from which direction you view the situation?
 
Anne Miller
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I would love to support the off-grid lifestyle like the guy in the article though dear hubby is too tied to the TV set.

We tried it for a month several years ago at our off-grid cabin in west Texas.  I really enjoyed my walks with the dog.

The folks at Wheaton Labs are a great example:



 
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Mary Cook wrote: the big thing that seems to be left out--can't believe nobody here has mentioned this--what does he EAT? Food is the most basic of needs and you can't grow more than a tiny percentage in Manhattan. So he depends on a constant stream of diesel trucks entering Manhattan delivering food and other things.



I'm not familiar with the infrastructure of Manhattan, or how his food is distributed, but it appears that he buys his food direct from various Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, a coop, and farmers market. Also a small amount on eating out. On this post he talks about his food budget.here he details the places he uses.

I found his site a bit difficult to navigate, but the search function quickly pulls up relevant information. Here for example he talks about soaking grains and seeds overnight before eating them. Sometimes he sprouts them, I think that's as close as he gets to growing his own though.
 
Anne Miller
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I did not go to the link though I asked Mr. Google about Josh Spodek.

Mr. Google said that he uses solar to make a vegan stew.

I would not expect anyone living in a Manhattan apartment to grow their own food.

As has been said before I would give Josh or anyone living in a Manhattan Apartment an A for effort for trying to make this world a better place.
 
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This got me thinking about the beginning of the movement here in Canada called, "The 100 Mile Diet". Believe it or not, the book was written 15 years ago!

The authors still strive to eat most of their food local and in season, and said this, "If it was all about suffering ... it would be hard to maintain for 15 years. But for me, it’s been nothing but an improvement in my quality of life."
In this article interviewing the authors: https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/06/29/The-100-Mile-Diet-15-Years-Later/

Wow, that really sounds like the principles we try to achieve here on Permies! The Gert Goal!

We can nit-pick about how Josh is or isn't counting the beans, but I think Anne Miller's comment still reigns: "As has been said before I would give Josh or anyone living in a Manhattan Apartment an A for effort for trying to make this world a better place."
 
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Without getting too specific, I live in a very similar environment, and while I don't go to the lengths this man does, I think there is a lot of interesting conversation to be had around the pluses of living in urban density from a sustainable perspective.

I'm very kitchen table level here and I live a relatively normal looking life so I'm not getting too nitty gritty or looking to win any awards for my lifestyle, but I think it's a part of our current reality that doesn't get discussed as much in more rural, homestead focused groups. I'm also from a significantly less dense urban setting from childhood, lived rurally and in a smaller city/suburb, so I have some objectivity about pros/cons or different settings.

Some pros to the urban life:
1. Human, walkable scale- I can walk to almost all of my basic needs within 10-20 minutes: dentist, doctor, hospital, grocer, bakery, brewery, hardware store, church, sundries store, etc, are all walkable. I didn't own a car for years, had to get one for a job and now have a very rarely driven older model hybrid that beyond meets my needs.
2. I live in a 120 year old masonry row house style flat. It is heated as one unit and the thermostat on the top floor has to stay below 62 to keep the place comfortable (not too hot) during even long cold winters because the building holds heat and shares with neighboring buildings. Our summer electricity bill is very low compared to everyone I know who lives elsewhere; this could be optimized if I wasn't west facing, had a tree in front of the west side, and didn't face an extremely noisy street, but the 10 ft ceilings help a lot too. If the building's owner wanted to utilize solar or place a green roof on top, it would be a pretty ideal spot to do so, as are many of the roofs in my area. (If I owned, I'd grow a lot of food on my roof)
4. In our block of antique row houses, there are probably 50+ households living in the footprint of 2-4 suburban households. I know that sounds like a negative for many people, but in terms of materials and infrastructure going into the housing of that number of households, it's a significant difference to the same number of newer housing options I typically see. We live with small square footage, share appliances, roofs, plumbing etc.
3. Density makes recycling and community composting very viable and heavily used by residents. There are also a number of roaming freelance recyclers that I see either on foot or with a vehicle that can make money in a small area by keeping an eye out.  "Stooping" is another way to recycle, and freecycle groups are popular and heavily utilized. I've probably furnished at least an entire household between myself and my friends with free finds over the years.
4. Public transit is preferred to driving and heavily utilized. Parking is an enormous pain, so leaving a "good spot" (if you have a car in the first place) is a real decision. Better to bus or walk or ferry!
5. Regional farmers have enough of a market to make them viable businesses, and they can deliver products to central locations for a lot of people for lower transportation outputs. More sustainable agriculture springs up in these urban "watersheds" because there are enough people in proximity to support these endeavors. Co-ops and CSA's are readily available. "Ugly" produce is readily available (either via the trendier delivery option or the little greengrocers who get it and sell it cheap and cheerful) I also see some fruit trees, vines, container gardens and other small scale growing even in my density. There are backyard chickens nearby and there used to be a lot of pigeon hutches on the rooftops because growers gotta grow (and nonna needs her basil)

Big picture, I think that dense urbanity is part of how humans have lived and will continue to live. Everyone is not going to be on a homestead with 10 acres and a well and solar. But I think that there are positives and ways to really take advantage of the density that are interesting and motivating to me. There are many times I admit I'd like to get away from it and have that quieter location but while I need to be here, I think it's important to look for ways to bloom where I am planted. And I'd like to encourage others who are in similar areas to not just look for the "ideal" situation but to take advantage of the benefits of the big city life and optimize every style of human habitation. At the least, this topic is fodder for some interesting and beneficial conversation. I went a little long on this post but it kind of got me in the heart of where I am as a non-traditional participant here on the forums.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I have spent a bit of time perusing this individual's blog, and I get the impression he is a mostly negative person. Not that I disagree with some of the things he complains about; but he doesn't seem to do much or propose positive things that turn the page. Poor Eeyore! Woe is me! My 2c.
 
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I have respect for anyone trying to work on their energy use, whether perfectly or otherwise. I've definitely been there, living in tiny apartments without AC in the summer (here in Canada unless you have passive solar not heating is not an option) and growing basil on windowsills. Laundry day makes it look like a clothing bomb exploded because I refuse to use a dryer. We all have to start where we're at!
 
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When I read the headline I thought this guy was trying to use more than a third of the total energy available on earth. Maybe he was a bitcoin miner? Or he is experimenting with nuclear fusion?

Nope, it turns out that, if everyone in the world used as much energy as he does, humanity as an entity would use just a bit more than a third of the total energy on earth. Or maybe it is 0.37 of the total current energy expenditure on earth. Whatever it is, Josh Spodek himself is not using that much energy.
 
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