Posts Tagged ‘green’

Why green parents should support the childfree

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a fairly outspoken childfree person. I like kids. I just prefer to come home to a cat. (See all my previous childfree posts here.)  I joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement as a precocious teenager and have never looked back. However, childfree posts don’t end up on this primarily green blog much for two reasons:

  1. The relationship between population and sustainability seems fairly obvious. Sure, there are other factors at play, including how we use resources, but not having children means that my considerable impact as a citizen of the developed world ends with me and is not multiplied over x number of generations. As it turns out, contraception is five times cheaper than low carbon technology.  Nothing too complex for my brain to chew on.
  2. It makes the green parents who read this blog defensive. I get this. If I were a parent, doing my damnedest to raise low impact kids, I would totally throw something at the smug childfree person who boasts about how she will always win the low impact contest. It’s not encouraging, it’s not achievable for parents to raise zero impact children, and I keep coming back to the idea that making people defensive is a terrible strategy for promoting your cause. (Read the comments on this post for a real life example.) With that in mind, I’m asking for your patience with this post. I will attempt to avoid smugness.

I found out about the childfree movement maybe a year ago. I was initially excited that there were other people like me who saw that their lives would be better without having children. Since then, however, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that being childfree is not in itself a good reason for me to like or respect you as a human being. I’ve come up against stridently anti-child childfree people. Childfree people who treat parents offensively. Snobby childfree people. And (possibly worst of all) whiny childfree people, as highlighted in a recent article on Grist about whether coming out as a childfree person is like coming out as being gay. (It’s not. Suck it up.)

While we may not be a particularly likable bunch, I’d like to appeal to green parents to support us anyway. I get that our reasons for caring about the planet may come from very different sources. I care deeply about biodiversity. I don’t want a world without orangutans, amur leopards, manatees, and all the wonderfully weird animals, plants, and habitats that are on this planet. You probably care more about your children’s security in the future — clean water, clean air, enough food, some natural beauty for them to enjoy. That’s fine. But please recognize that supporting people who make childfree decisions is one way to support a common goal of greater sustainability. And — five little words to sweeten up the deal for you: More. Resources. For. Your. Kids.

My goals as a childfree person are very moderate. I’d like to see increased worldwide access to cheap, effective contraception (particularly IUDs and voluntary sterilization — if there were cheap spay and neuter days for humans, I’d be the first in line). And I’d like to see more social support for the decision not to have kids. Are you a green parent? Here are a few ways you can support the childfree:

  • Advocate for continued/better access to contraception. If you haven’t noticed, Planned Parenthood isn’t doing so well these days. The Democratic Party has its issues, I’ll give you that, but it at least seems to place women’s reproductive rights over religious beliefs most of the time.  
  • Respect the childfree decisions of the people you encounter. Don’t try to talk them out of their decision or put social pressure on them to change their minds. Please don’t assume we’re pedophiles, psychologically damaged, sexually aberrant, or likely to grow out of it.
  • Don’t exclude us. I recently attended a green Twitter party and had absolutely nothing to say in a conversation that ended up being all about eco-friendly Easter baskets and other child-centered issues. Yes, green parenting brings up a lot of concerns that will not interest people without kids, but choosing more general interest topics for a discussion that isn’t specifically designated for green moms would reach out to a bigger sector of the green movement. Inclusiveness is good.
  • Consider sustainability in choosing how many children to have if you are planning your family or thinking about having more children. Oh…I know I’m going to get crap for this one. I don’t support coercive child policies like China’s. I’m not going to attempt to limit your reproductive rights. I see that one more child will not destroy the planet. But if you are concerned about the environment and your own impact on biodiversity, I’m asking that you weigh that concern in your decision.

Now it’s your turn. Green parents, what could the childfree do to earn your support? And if you’re already childfree, what are your thoughts on the relationship between green and childfree? 

10 Super Easy Ways to Be Green[er]

I watched An Inconvenient Truth for the first time last night. When it came out a few years ago, I wasn’t as much of an environmentalist as I am  now. Since then, and especially since joining Twitter, I have been bombarded with daily updates about How We Are All Screwed Why We Need to Act Now. The film didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. At the same time, it was a sobering reminder of just how much work it will take to clean up our act and preserve not only us but also the species we share the Earth with.

If An Inconvenient Truth has a flaw, it is surely that it doesn’t directly empower people to act. Al Gore talks a lot about the need to lower our gigantic CO2 output, but doesn’t 1) make the problem seem small enough that an individual’s actions can positively affect it; or 2) give individuals ideas on how to combat their own lifestyles.

Now, I realize that that wasn’t the point of the film, which was to serve as a wake up call, but perhaps it would have been a good aspect to address. Individuals have to believe that they can make a difference in the problem before they’ll act. Therein lies the problem: our actions, individually, are pretty minute and difficult to measure. However, en masse, they can make a tremendous difference. (Or at least I kept telling myself, as I cut short my morning shower on a chilly autumn morning.) At the same time, most people don’t want to change any really fundamental aspects of the comfortable lives they lead.

So I offer this list as a compromise. They are all extremely easy and practical to do, and require singularly little effort. They might even save you money. They won’t make as significant an impact as, say, going vegetarian or giving up your car, but they’re a minimal-effort way to start making a difference

  1. Quit the plastic water bottle habit once and for all. Plastic, for all intents and purposes, does not biodegrade. According to The World Without Us, every bit of plastic we’ve produced in the past 50 years, with the exception of the small percentage that has been incinerated, is still around in one form or another (much of it in the ocean). We simply don’t know enough right now about the longterm effects of plastic on the environment. Switch to a stainless steel or aluminum water bottle instead, which can be used for years and fully recycled at the end of it.
  2. For the same reason, go for a reusable shopping bag instead of taking plastic ones at the store. You probably have a couple already stashed in your closet that were given to you free by various companies. Use them!
  3. Swap paper napkins with cloth ones. There’s no need for virgin forest to end up as a disposable napkin. (Much less as toilet paper. Rather than use cloth for that function, however, you can opt for recycled toilet paper.)
  4. Shop less. Every item you buy has a carbon footprint and uses resources. Unless you truly need it or truly love it, consider using what you already have or doing without. Consumerism is a big part of our use of land and resources and, inevitably, of pollution and waste.
  5. Take shorter showers. The world is likely to face severe fresh water shortages within the next fity years. Your water footprint is no less important than your carbon footprint to sustainability.
  6. Go meatless for one day a week. Industrial agriculture is a major cause of carbon emissions, to say nothing of obesity. Do yourself and the planet a favor by cutting it out once a week. If everyone were vegetarian one day a week, we could prevent 1.2 million tons of CO2, 3 million tons of soil erosion, and 4.5 tons of animal waste. It would also be equivalent to taking half of all American cars off the road.
  7. Walk one of your errands each week. Even a Prius can’t compete with the near-zero carbon footprint of walking. Do yourself a favor, too!
  8. Join Freecycle, a group committed to keeping things out of the landfill. You can keep your unwanted items out of the landfill and get ones you do need.
  9. Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. (Better yet, unplug appliances or turn them off from the strip.) Unless you’ve gone solar, your electricity is still largely generated by coal burning and non-renewable energy sources.
  10. Reuse before you recycle. This may come as a surprise: recycling isn’t actually that green. It still takes up energy and resources. Reduce waste by buying less and avoiding packaging and creatively reusing things you already have before you recycle.

The rules are overall pretty simple. Choose reusable products over single or limited use products. Shop smarter (and less). And think before you consume resources. Don’t let anyone persuade you that you can buy yourself green — while you can and should replace necessary products with greener equivalents, buying new products, even if organic, sustainably produced, and recyclable, is never going to be as green as reusing what you already have.

The Four [Reusable] Bag System

Just about everyone I know has, and earnestly means to use, reusable shopping bags. Reusable bags are a fantastic, easy, and cheap way to make a dent in your plastic usage. My parents accumulated a closet full of them during the dot com era of conventions and freebies, and I not only inherited some of these sturdy and free (if undeniably ugly) canvas bags, I also picked up a few hippie bags of my own during my wild university days at Santa Cruz. Yes, they have Celtic knots on them.

However, many of the people who have and want to use their reusable bags don’t actually manage to do so on a regular basis.  There are two key elements keeping would-be greenies from achieving greater plastic independence:

  • We forget to take them out of the car when we go shopping. (We are too lazy to go back for them once we are ten feet from the car.)
  • We forget to bring them back to the car after using them for toting groceries into the house. (We are too lazy to make another trip out to the car to drop them off.)

Sound familiar?  Ugliness isn’t a contributing factor: forgetfulness and a streak of laziness definitely are, and none of us are immune. So dig out those dot com bags or get out your snazzy organic cotton ones.  We’re going to need at least four to combat these two banal but real deterrents.

Step 1: Take two reusable shopping bags (more if you buy a lot of groceries at the same time), preferably the more colorful ones, and plant them somewhere highly noticeable in your car. My preference is for the passenger seat, but if you actually have passengers, you can stuff them by the side of the seat, on the door, or where you put your purse — anywhere you will see them when you are in the car. Bright is good!

Step 2: Put the remaining two reusable bags in your trunk. These are your back-up bags and should not be needed unless you’ve been abusing the system.

Step 3: Use your front seat bags whenever you shop. Remember, they live on your passenger seat (or thereabouts), so only short excursions to the store and to the house are permitted.

Step 4: If you forget to bring your front seat bags back to the car (which is probably inevitable at some point), you may use your back-ups on the condition that those bags return to their home ASAP.

Step 5: If you get down to 1 or no bags in your car, gather up the bags languishing in your house and put your purse in them so you’ll remember them the next time you head out. (Do not forget that you have put your purse in them.)

And that’s it. Pretty simple, with ample allowances for forgetfulness and laziness. Tested and true by yours truly, and I am by no means more attentive or responsible than the average green-ish citizen. Let me know how it works for you!

Oh…and please don’t run out and get designer reusable bags if you have perfectly usable ones already. Sustainability is ultimately about consuming less.

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…

Green? More like chartreuse.

For someone who went to school in Santa Cruz and stopped eating meat three years ago, I’m a pretty half-hearted treehugger. Open my medicine cabinet, and you’ll find a few guilty tubes of Revlon lipgloss that are neither animal nor earth friendly. Check out my car, and you’ll discover that, while uncontroversially green in color, it’s a lot more car than I need and uses more gas than I can really justify. Bamboo towels, organic produce, biodegradable corn bags? Not exactly.

This blog, like a diet blog for my life instead of my body, will document my eco sins, witness my attempts to improve, and decry my inevitable slip-ups. Like that elaborately packaged 8 pack of Bonne Bell Lipsmackers. (But seriously, how could I resist kiwi berry flavored chapstick?)

In the interests of full disclosure, here’s an incomplete list of things I already do to be a greener citizen of this world:

  • I don’t eat meat. If all the food we grew from the earth went to feed other people instead of livestock animals, world hunger probably wouldn’t be an issue. The other reason is that I’m squeamish and don’t want to come within a fork’s length of something that used to have eyeballs.
  • I’m not vegan, but I buy free range eggs because I feel bad that chickens have to be miserable so I can have an eggy-in-a-basket or egg fried rice.
  • When running water for my shower, I save the water in a bucket and use it for plants.
  • I almost always remember my reusable shopping bags. I take particular delight in flaunting my white Trader Joe’s bag in Whole Foods, where the checkers give me evil looks.
  • I hate driving,  so I drive as little as I can get away with and walk as many of my errands as possible.

And some major sins I want to work on:

  • Not buying local and/or organic. Some of this is financial. Organic produce can seem pretty pricey, and anyone who’s on a budget is likely to think twice before shelling out twice as much for organic strawberries — even though straws are on the list of dirty dozen fruits and veg that have high levels of pesticides.
  • Using plastic bags. I could conceivably switch to corn-based biodegradable bags for the kitchen and/or litter box, but I’ve been reluctant about the cost because I don’t have a compost bin and they’d end up in a landfill anyway.
  • Buying green products only when they’re on sale. This isn’t necessarily a problem; I just need to buy more of them when they’re on sale, so I won’t be tempted by a 99 cent bottle of Palmolive washing up liquid because I already have five 7th Generation bottles in the cupboard.
  • Letting myself be seduced by the fall of warm water in the shower, even though the thinking part of my brain knows California is in a pretty severe drought. A timer might help. Setting my water setting on ‘vacation’ mode (two degrees below tepid) would also be an instant motivator. I haven’t brought myself to do either yet.
  • Driving a car that isn’t highly gas efficient. Not much to be done about this one right now, except drive it less.

That’s probably enough to start with. One at a time…

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