Monday, August 21, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Polar bears are drowning.
It rained in Antarctica.
There will be no glaciers in a decade in Glacier National Park.

These are some of the inconvenient truths I was exposed to while watching a Melissa Etheridge video that promotes Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, which I have not yet seen. And, I don't feel compelled in the slightest way to get in my SUV drive to go see it either. That's not because I don't care about the environment - I certainly do. It's just that I'm already in the choir so preaching to me won't change by watching the movie. I did visit the website and counted my personal carbon impact by aswering a few questions about my energy consumption here. I came in 33% below the average. How well do you do?

Now, if the movie actually has concrete take home suggestions for personal action after an impactful call-to-arms message for those who need a kick in the pants, I would watch it. But don't tell me something I already know. It'll only make my anger and resentment grow. I might come away feeling hopeless and helpless rather than empowered.

At this point, I've heard the message and I want to know what I can do to reduce my personal impact on the income that my family has. I add the income part because if you look around, it actually costs something to make immediate green changes to your lifestyle that take a while to 'pay off.'

For instance, we could sell our house and have a totally green one built. Geothermal heat pump. Solar power. Composting toilet. Xeriscape yard with organic garden. It would be within walking distance to work, groceries, banking, the vet, doctor, and the post office. I'd have a second car that is a hybrid for trips to visit family and get out into the remaining wilderness. That's my dream life.

For now, I resolve to think globally and act locally.

Here are a few things I already do and that you can easily do too in order to minimize your impact:
1. Shut off the lights you don't use.
Be an Energy Ant. You should install efficient fluorescent bulbs in high-use spots.
2. Turn up the thermostat in summer and down in winter.
Put in good insulation and seal cracks around windows, doors, in the attic. Open the windows at night and shut them in the morning to trap the cool air inside. Don't run the AC/heat while you aren't home.
3. WALK or bike everywhere you can.
It takes longer so plan ahead. You may have to trade driving to your gym for walking to work, getting groceries, etc. It's excellent exercise. If you have to drive, plan ahead so that you run all of your errands in the order that amounts to the least driving. Better yet, combine with a friend or more so you use one car rather than more. Incorporate walking into your family together time.
4. Water at night.
There's no reason to let the sun dry it up before it makes it into the ground.
5. Install a low-flow showerhead.
We found one for less than ten bucks and it didn't reduce the water pressure. It does the opposite.
6. Reduce the amount of stuff you buy.
Use the things you already have longer. If it's broken, fix it first.
7. Recycle everything you can.
Buy products that come in recyclable containers. In my town curbside recycling only takes #1 plastic. I haven't heard of a curbside that doesn't take glass so buy products that come in glass (peanut butter, jam, etc) rather than plastic you can't recycle.
8. Re-use stuff.
You can clean out jam jars and use them for drinking cups. You can use yogurt cups to start seeds for your garden. Dust with used dryer sheets - they are fantastic for picking up pet hair. Wash your windows with newspapers. It really works. Seriously.
9. Use Seventh Generation products.
I love their lavender dish soap. They've even got a line of products for your baby. Think about the environmental impact of diapers. We've had the debate about cloth vs. disposable and we don't even have kids yet. With cloth, you've got tons of washing and chemicals. With plastic you've got plastic, the stuffing, and landfill accumulation. Which is better? I have no idea but I will figure it out when the time comes.
10. Ask other people what they do to conserve.
You'll get ideas and you'll force people to think about the impact of their actions.

On that note, what do you do to reduce your impact on the environment?


Marjorie said...

Excellent suggestions. My own little contributions to conservation are:

a) My husband and I only own one car, a 1995 Geo Prizm that we maintain very well. It's difficult to get by with just 1 car in Dallas, but not impossible. As you said, it just takes a little organization.
b) We chose a home that's within walking distance of my workplace. That eliminates the need for that 2nd car, as I can walk to work while my husband takes the car to his job.
c) We recycle everything we can: most plastics, glass, batteries, paper. We visit the recycling center every weekend or every other.
d) We live in an apartment and have no input on the design. It's fairly inefficient, but we minimize the impact as much as we can by installing dark drapes in especially sunlit areas during the summer and keep the thermostat as low as we can comfortably keep it (78 in the summer).
e) We air-dry most of our clothes on our balcony. In the summer, it takes about an hour in the intense Texas heat to dry. We only use the dryer for bedsheets and towels.
f) We use homemade cleaning supplies as often as possible (lots of recipes on the Web).
g) Yup, we reuse jars as drinking glasses, art projects, gift containers.
h) We donate plastic bags to the farmer's market.
i) We use cloth bags at the supermarket.
j) We try to purchase secondhand clothing and shoes when needed. There's a fantastic consignment shop here that has beautiful designer clothing at reasonable prices.
k) We minimize the purchase of products made in countries with questionable labor practices (mostly China).
l) We run around the neighborhood for exercise and/or lift weights at home.

There's more, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment. I'd love to hear what others are doing as well.


twf said...

I don't drive (neither my husband nor I have a driver's license), I eat vegetarian, I buy very little (I hate shopping), I recycle, I bring my backpack to the grocery store (carrying groceries home on foot sucks otherwise anyway), and in general I do what I can.

My biggest contribution to global warming is from flying. I fly home to visit my husband, across the country to visit my family of origin, and a variety of distances to go to conferences.

My roommate drives me nuts. She leaves all the lights in the apartment on all day and all night. She loves to shop and brings home random crap nearly every day. I'm only slowly teaching her how to recycle.

Marjorie said...

Oh, good one! I forgot to mention that that my hubby is vegetarian, so by default I am as well 90% of the time (the other 10% includes business meals and parties). And I can't believe I forgot the most important one from a money perspective: I work for a wind energy development company.


Alasdair said...

Damn! Most of the good ideas are taken. Like twf, I think a backpack is key to conservation, not just for hauling groceries (and recyclables), but for cutting out the plastic bags from other shops.

I think that by carrying purchases on my back, on foot, I'm less inclined to buy things I don't need. Not that I need a lot of help there.

So, here're my two cents. One is frivolous and easy, the other is a little off the beaten track.

$.01 - Some people are only satisfied if they can splurge (with money) once in a while. My take is that if you feel that need, go get a massage or pedicure. You can support a local business, do something nice for yourself and come away without accumulating stuff you don't need.

$0.02 - When you have to buy a new water heater, go with the tankless variety (, for example). Instead of the usual space-gobbling water storer/heater, you get a smaller, more efficient gizmo that just gives you hot water when you ask for it. Inevitably, shopping for such an item means cutting through bullshit, propaganda and skepticism, but you'd have to do that with the composting toilet, too. :)

Nutbuk Ug Bulpin said...

These are the things that I can think of: a) We recycle plastic bottles & cans. b) We seldom use our AC in our loft & car. c)We only buy organic veggies. d)We go to thrift shop for books & other stuff. e)We switch off all lights/gadgets except the fridge when we go out from our place. f) We use our shopping plastic bags as our trash bags. g) We patronized local products and food.