Posts Tagged ‘carbon footprint’

Hardcore Ways to Go Green

I saw an article on The Atlantic a few days ago  called ‘The Most Hard-Core Ways to Go Green,” and frankly, it was a bit rubbish. The suggestions were either not very low impact or not very hardcore. An expensive shower that forcibly ejects you after a few minutes? Unnecessary. DIY cleaning supplies? Check. A menstrual cup? Pfft.

Let me translate what hardcore seems to mean here: further than the writer is willing or able to go right now. In other words, hardcore is in the eyes of the beholder. Some of my lifestyle choices that seem very ordinary and do-able to me, like not eating meat or line drying my clothes, might seem hardcore to people more entrenched in a standard American lifestyle. And some choices that I haven’t wrapped my head around yet, like going car-free, no doubt seem very normal and unexceptionable to people who have been living that way for a while. Wherever you are on the green spectrum, hardcore is a moving target.

As it should be. Nonetheless, here’s a fun thought experiment: How far is too far for you right now? Here are a handful of changes that I consider hardcore. I have two basic criteria: 1) It has to be something with a significant impact on my environmental footprint, and 2) It has to be something that I haven’t done already. Ask me again in five years, and I hope I’ll have moved on to new standards of hardcore-ness!

Jennifer’s Hardcore Ways to Go Green

Switch to a composting toilet. Even with high efficiency toilets, we use gallons of clean, potable water to flush our toilets every day. If you don’t have a high efficiency toilet, it’s likely your biggest indoor water user.  A composting toilet takes water out of the equation. I was incredibly grossed out by the idea of one until I realized that the simplest ones were basically litter boxes for humans. Although I’ve never used one personally, I am in regular contact with a litter box. It doesn’t smell. It’s not a big deal. But my current home has flush toilets that I’m not intending to switch out.

Go plastic free. Beth Terry has my sincere admiration for remaking her life in a plastic-free form. When I look at how pervasive plastic is and how much time and knowledge is needed to avoid it, I feel a little daunted. I’ve cut down on my use of plastic greatly and choose plastic free options when available, but the issue doesn’t reverberate with me the way it does for her.

Swap my car for a bike. My car is one of the least environmentally friendly pieces of my life. I don’t drive very much, and I could theoretically bike or car share for the errands I need to run. I’m reluctant to; I have a completely irrational affection for my old ’97 Taurus and an equally irrational fear of biking in a busy street. Actually, it’s not totally irrational. Drivers here aren’t used to bikers and frequently don’t look when entering the bike lane. I’ve seen enough close calls to be worried.

Never fly again. As an acknowledged shut-in, I take about one round trip plane ride a year. In May, I’ll be heading back to the Big Island, Hawaii. According to the TerraPass carbon calculator, this equals  1,857 lb of carbon dioxideOuch. I don’t even like flying, though I do like looking at new and different plants and have favorite spots several places around the world. I’d be sad never to visit Durham Cathedral again, but I might eventually give up flying.

Get off the grid. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels, rain water catchment system, composting toilet, the whole nine yards. I’m interested, but not quite going for it. For anyone who knows me, the thought of my voluntarily roughing it is laughable. I’m a suburbanite in the early stages of recovery.

Eat the pet. I came across this chillingly rational idea a while ago and was utterly revolted. I have a carnivorous pet who can’t fend for herself. Brie’s meaty diet has a significant impact; I acknowledge the fact that it makes ecological sense to have pets that double as food, but I absolutely refuse. I won’t do it. I can’t. And if I could, I think you should be scared to know me.

Boycott the grocery store. I used to enjoy looking at supermarket ads. Now, on the rare occasion that I have a flip through, I find that they rarely advertise anything that I buy anymore — it’s all high profit processed and packaged food. I’m not quite to the point where I get everything from the farmers’ market and the bulk bins, but I’m inching closer.

Grow most or all of my own food. I haven’t been bitten by the gardening bug yet. Partly because I live in a condo with no land, but partly because I’m just not that motivated. (If you want to see how another apartment-dwelling green blogger gets around her restrictions and grows tons of food, visit Living Lightly in a Wavering World.)

Buy nothing new. After I was patting myself on the back for going all of March without buying anything, I came across a year long buy-nothing-new challenge. Hardcore? Harder core for sure. I was getting a little antsy at the end of the month, although the terms of my challenge (buy nothing, including used items) were a bit stricter. I’d be up for a longer challenge, but a year or more is intimidating.

Reach out in my community. If you’re an extrovert, reaching out to, you know, actual people instead of words on a screen might not seem very hardcore at all. I’m on the extreme opposite end of extroversion. I hate talking to people I don’t know; I haven’t got the faintest idea how to network and make a difference for the people I actually live among. I have vague ideas of volunteering to be a naturalist docent at my local open space, or doing something with our urban tree organization, or helping promote scientific literacy. Instead, my volunteer work is currently limited to socializing cats, which involves — you guessed it — zero interaction with humans.

Get sterilized. This might seem like the hardest core action the list, but honestly, the only reason I haven’t gotten myself sterilized is that low cost spay/neuter days are limited to quadrupeds. Apparently humans don’t qualify for the discount, even though I’d argue that human overpopulation poses far more problems than cat or dog overpopulation. If it were only a matter of shelling out $50 to ensure that my carbon legacy ends with me, I would do it tomorrow. Or on Earth Day. I can’t think of a more effective way to ensure curbing my total impact.

That’s what hardcore looks like for me. What about you? What’s pushing your green envelope?

Share a Car!

I have successfully persuaded Emily from Living Lightly in a Wavering World to do my work guest blog for me while I’m away on holiday. Emily is a gardener, a minimalist, a fellow childfree blogger, and a survivor of life without a washing machine or fridge.  And she’s not at all obnoxious about being a deeper shade of green than you are! All great reasons to follow her blog. Here’s her advice on car-sharing — something I could definitely learn more about.

When it comes to reducing our impact on our planet, every small action helps. But, sorry folks, small actions just aren’t enough. Humans have already caused significant, irreversible damage to the Earth. Unless every one of us starts making significant lifestyle changes, we will soon be experiencing devastating planetary changes.

One of the easiest, most significant lifestyle changes that you can make is to share a car. My boyfriend and I have been sharing a VW Jetta (gets 32 mpg) for two years and it has seldom been an inconvenience. We made the one car switch for two reasons: to save money and to reduce our carbon emissions. In order to accommodate a one car lifestyle, I choose to commute by foot or bicycle and my boyfriend often works from home. When we do travel, we usually travel together or we make arrangements with one another to use the car. The money that we used to spend on insurance, registration, maintenance, and gas has now been cut in half — important savings during this economic recession.

Although sharing a car is not socially acceptable in America, I feel good knowing that I have lowered my carbon emissions and have reduced my dependency on oil. Although my neighbors think that my boyfriend and I are “weird” and “poor” because we have one car, the endorphins that I get from bicycling and walking give me the confidence to stand up to their ignorance. Some people pity us and think that sharing a car compromises our lifestyle; however our travel plans are seldom hindered. I actually prefer to travel by bike; it’s way more fun than driving. (And we all could use a little more fun in our lives.)

A one car lifestyle IS POSSIBLE! How can you make the switch?

  • Decide that the fate of our planet is more important than your need to drive a car
  • Carpool with neighbors or other household members
  • Ride a bike or walk
  • Create a schedule for the car, so that everyone has to opportunity to use it
  • Choose public transportation
  • Instead of driving your kids to school, have them ride the school bus or ride their bikes (teenagers included)
  • Work from home
  • Live closer to school, work, stores, recreation, etc.
  • Decide that the money saved from sharing a car is “worth it”
  • Live in an urban area instead of a suburban area
  • Decide that car sharing is the cool, new “green trend”
  • Think ahead when using your car to run errands; stock up on groceries and other items to prevent having to drive frequently
  • Support others in their efforts to reduce their car usage 

Now go check out Emily’s blog for some more inspiration and straight talk about what you can do to stop destroying the planet!

Overpopulation AND Overconsumption

Exactly as if we didn’t have bigger things to worry about, here comes a new ‘debate’ right in time for July 11, World Population Day: Which is more of a problem, overpopulation or overconsumption?

Really? Really? This is like arguing about whether green M&Ms taste better than blue ones. (Of course they do.) You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that both are major barriers to living sustainably as a species on Earth. Equally obviously, while we haven’t got a chance at totally addressing one or the other, chipping away at both is something we need to be doing.

First, a crucial link: It’s because we both have so many humans and some of us consume so much that we’re in such a pickle. If we had a total population of maybe 1 million  people who drove Hummers and ate primarily beef and dairy products, the Earth would probably be fine. If we had under 2 billion people on the planet, everyone could probably (if prudently) enjoy first world luxuries like electricity and running water and reliable transportation and medical care without endangering the planet. But as David Attenborough  puts it, “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people. The same problem becomes harder, or ultimately impossible, when more people are involved.” So overconsumption? Easier to deal with if there are fewer overconsumers. Pretty obvious, right?

While both the overpopulationists and overconsumerists are both right, the real issue is not which group is righter; it’s how to deal with both issues without totally trampling over things like human rights and cultural traditions. (After all, if I were a despotic but environmentally concerned dictator, I could simply put contraceptives in the water supply or enact consumer rations.) I think our success in the future is going to depend on two things: getting the first world to cut back its consumption and its population, and improving the standard of living in the third world sustainably while also reducing its population.

I don’t care if the current birthrate in America is 2.1, or just about ‘replacement’ levels. (I disagree with the term ‘replacement’ because our long lifespans mean many overlapping years in which more of us are consuming.) One American child has almost 7 times the carbon footprint as one Chinese child, and probably more than that compared to, say, an Ethiopian one. Assuming that Americans are unlikely to return to third world levels of consumption or suddenly experience massive die-offs, reducing the population while modifying our consumerism seems like a reasonable middle-of-the-road path to me. (How? That’s another problem entirely.)

The situation looks a little different in third world countries, but as with first world countries, easy access to, cultural permission/empowerment to, and knowledge of how to use contraceptives is a must. Let’s start by preventing unwanted pregnancies and births everywhere. Then maybe we can use renewable energy and water saving technologies to not only revamp the way first worlders live but also help the third world develop in a far more sustainable way than we did.

Of course, this plan depends heavily on:

  • global respect for the natural world
  • voluntarily having fewer children on a massive scale
  • using money and resources for philanthropic purposes
  • putting sustainability in front of gratifying our every immediate desire
  • giving new technology to people we can’t profit from
  • resource sharing
  • acting effectively and cooperatively as a species
  • thinking and acting on behalf of the second or third generation
  • starting a cultural revolution against rampant consumerism

Um…can I take the despotic but environmentally minded dictator after all?

Ways I’ve gotten greener this year

Greenness is hard to quantify. (In fact, color is hard to quantify, within and without human perspective, but that’s a whole different story.) But in the last year, I think I’ve been hedging towards lime and away from lemon on the color wheel. Comparing this year and previous years:

  • I did not take six (ouch!) transatlantic flights between California and England. Total carbon savings: several tons. I can only defend those flights by saying that for four of them (two in December/January and two in June/July) I was extremely homesick, depressed, and sick to death of my dissertation. 
  • I shortened my commute from 12 miles to 3.  I haven’t given up my car, but I’ve made some progress towards driving less.
  • My lunches no longer involve any packing materials that are not reusable and/or reused. My sandwich and snacks are now contained in highly reusable tupperware rather than plastic bags. Yes, tupperware is plastic…but it’s at least going to serve me for a good long time.
  • My showers have gone from 20 minute soul-cleansing ablutions to 5 minute flings with soap and shampoo. Not entirely without regret.
  • I pay more attention to where my produce comes from. California is one of the places where there is really no excuse not to buy local or at least state-produced food. I can think of a few things California doesn’t produce (bananas, Taiwanese bellfruit, pineapples), but it more than makes up for it with everything else.
  • I have worked out the perfect four bag fabric shopping bag system. Two of my fabric bags live on my passenger seat. The other two live in my trunk and are to be used only if I have been very bad about returning my front seat bags to the car after using them. I can’t remember the last time I took a plastic bag.
  • My lovely Sigg has replaced many disposable water bottles; at least 1-2 a week.
  • I am now a solar enthusiast and can even bore you with the history of photovoltaics.

Naturally, there is much (very much) room for improvement…

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